Browsing Tag

Emily Rapp

Writing Retreat in Vermont with Emily Rapp & Jen Pastiloff.

October 22, 2015
Annual Vermont retreat with Emily Rapp.

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Quaint, picturesque, honest and completely unique; Stowe is better than anything out of Rockwell’s imagination.

Stowe Mountain. This is a true New England four-season location. Yoga retreats in spring and summer are perfect for hiking, horseback riding, swimming and tractor hay rides to the Stowe Farmer’s Market. Fall yoga retreats include all of these wonderful activities, but add in New England’s fabulous and unbeatable fall foliage. Winter brings skiing, skiing and more skiing. Downhill or world class cross-country are minutes from the retreat doorstep along with guided snowshoeing and the winter-wonderland that is Stowe village.

All retreats include three meals a day prepared by a local chef, natural horsemanship classes, yoga and unlimited dips in the outdoor jacuzzi or stops in the indoor dry sauna.

All rooms on property are unique, many with multiple beds to fit almost all room sharing requirements. Please note that all bathrooms are shared with multiple rooms or people.

Outfitted with warm duvets and views, these cozy rooms all meet up in the heart of the lodge, the yoga room and kitchen.

Natural horsemanship is open to all, but is, of course, optional.

Join us in the beauty of any season and come see what all the fuss is about!

Join Jen Pastiloff and Emily Rapp once again in Stowe. After the last two year’s sold-out and life
changing retreats, they knew they had to do it again.

This retreat is nothing short of life-changing!

Jen Pastiloff is best known for her Manifestation Retreats® around the world and for her essays and online presence. Emily Rapp is a renowned author and professor. Join them both for 4 days of yoga, Manifestation Workshops with Jen, workshops with Emily, gorgeous foliage, wine tasting, horses, hiking and whatever else your heart may desire in the Vermont mountains. This is the perfect retreat for all level yogis and writers. It will be a journey into the self and out into the world. There will be a yoga/Manifestation workshop every day as well as a writing workshop with Emily.

How do you write the story of a life? Why is it important to tell these personal stories? Memoir is an art form that shines a light on deeply subjective experiences in order to illuminate universal truths about being human. Through discussion, writing exercises, and supportive sharing, we will generate material, consider issues of ethics when writing about ourselves and other people, and map out a plan to deepen your writing life.

Writing sessions will be generative and focused on mining your memory for significant details/memories/experiences. Discussions and exercises will be geared specifically toward writing personal narrative. Yoga with Jen includes writing as well but will be less focused on “craft” and more on exploring the unconscious mind and beliefs. Jen uses the yoga as a vehicle to get you to go deeper into your writing.

Emily has taught writing in the MFA program at Antioch University, Los Angeles, The Taos Writers’ Workshop, University of California – Palm Desert, and the Gotham Writers’ Workshops. Her second book The Still Point of The Turning World (March 2013 Penguin Press) is the story of a mother’s journey through grief and beyond in dealing with the fatal Tay Sachs Disease.

Binders, Grief, Guest Posts, healing, Little Seal, loss

Cartography for Mourners.

March 2, 2015
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By Emily Rapp. 

The power of grief to derange the mind has in fact been exhaustively noted.

– Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking

 

Maps to Anywhere (Numerous)

I hate maps. I can’t read them, understand them, interpret them, or follow them. I have a whole drawer full of maps and pop-up, fold out street guides for various cities, and although I take them with me when I visit these places, I never consult them. Instead I tote them around in my shoulder bag, my purse, my backpack, and ask people on the street for directions.

 

Map to a Funeral (Hidden)

It is mid-winter in downtown Chicago, and my parents, sitting in the two front seats of a rented mini-van, are huddled over a paper map. Exhaust billows in gray and black streaks past the windows. Commuters look shrouded and miserable, hurrying over frigid sidewalks in the rapidly fading light. I’m in the back seat with my ten-month-old daughter Charlotte, who is strapped in her car seat, babbling and cooing. She doesn’t know this is a terrible blizzard in rush hour, or that someone – my father’s mother, my grandmother – has died. We are driving from Chicago to Pontiac in a storm that feels as thick and relentless as the sound of the word blizzard on the radio, which is turned up high. People are frenzied, worried and watchful, the way people love to be about extreme weather conditions.

My grandmother has died at 93 after refusing food or fluids for two weeks, which is some kind of record. My son, at three years old, lasted only a few days with the same restrictions. Ninety years difference – a literal lifetime – between their ages at death. I struggle to understand what this means or how to absorb it, but generate no cogent thoughts.

Beyond the city limits the interstate is a blur of red and blue emergency lights, car blinkers switching on and off in irregular patterns that compete with the holiday hangers on who leave their Christmas decorations up after the new year. The drivers in the cars stopped on either side of us are reading newspapers spread out over the steering wheels or tapping into their phones, having given up changing lanes. One woman is slumped over, face in her hands, weeping.

My daughter poops her diaper, and I unstrap her from her safety restraints and change her in the unmoving car. My parents are bickering. My brother is waiting at the airport. We’d gone to Soldier’s Field to see the Aquarium, but ended up looking at twenty-year old exhibits of stuffed animals: antelope and bears in permanent yawn, taxidermy tails stalled mid-air. I crammed us all into a photo booth in our last fifteen minutes, because I had an enormous glass of wine for lunch and because we need to laugh.

“We should never have gone.”
“Who could have known we’d get stuck in a blizzard.”

This conversation continues on endless repeat, my parents trading lines between them until I threaten to throw the diaper into the front seat if they don’t change the subject. “Don’t think I won’t!” I shout, and feel like a teenager on vacation with her parents: petulant and trapped, self-righteous and unhappy.

We make it to O’Hare and pick up my brother and my nephew. My dad argues with the security guard, telling her that the airport is designed to be confusing. I tell him this is certainly not true. Through the open van door I toss Charlotte’s diaper into a curbside trashcan.

An hour from O’Hare, far from any lights, wind, snow-thick, swirls white and erratic over the roads mainly clear of cars but still treacherous. My dad drifts between lanes, floats across medians. “You’re fucking scaring me!” I shout when he crosses a road without looking in both directions. My brother glares at me for cursing in front of his ten-year-old son.

We stop at a town outside Chicago, at a sports bar, where six men wearing orange vests sitting at a table turn to stare at us when we walk through the door. We have been in the car for nearly ten hours. When I tell my friend Gina, a native of Chicago, where we ended up for dinner, she tells me she’s lived in Chicago her entire life and I’ve never even heard of that fucking place.

A waitress accidentally spills a beer on my father’s lap.

“This day is shitballs,” I tell him, and hand him a stack of napkins.

“Yep,” he agrees, but he’s laughing. He leaves the apologetic waitress a generous tip.

 

Map to a Church (Unnecessary)

The route to my grandmother’s funeral service is a straight line from the hotel to the church down a road lined with two-story houses, all fenced yards and large wooden porches, the sidewalks stacked on both sides with fresh snow that blows away in sporadic blasts of arctic wind to reveal weeks-old snow covered in soot, stamped with boot and paw prints and pieces of dog shit. The church is near the town lake, where a group of geese huddle together looking stunned and miserable on ice the same color as the wall of cold sky that seems almost low enough to touch the frozen water. I think they’re geese. I know they’re not ducks. I’m not a poet. I don’t know my birds. I don’t know an elm from a poplar. I’m a little bit better with flowers. I know a blue spruce because there was one in my yard in Santa Fe, and it was the one pop of color on the gray winter day two years ago when my son died.

“Don’t they migrate somewhere warmer?” I ask. “Those geese or birds or whatever?” Nobody answers me. At the church, my brother and his son leap out of the car and sprint across the parking lot. The frozen lake reminds me of another frozen lake in Minnesota where I spent one weekend listening to Joni Mitchell records and writing bad poetry (I didn’t know my birds then, either) with a group of college girlfriends; another frozen lake in Wisconsin where I watched five continuous hours of CNN on the first anniversary of 9/11. Both events seem whole lifetimes ago, memories connected to my current life by delicate filaments that show their strength in the strangest moments.

I pick my way across the parking lot with a bundled Charlotte in my arms. Inside people are milling about in front of a funeral board: pictures of my grandmother as a young girl on the farm, on a horse, in the early 1940s with my father in a cute suit, standing in front of a flat white house, with her parents, who are expressionless and shaped like barrels.

My grandmother was cruel to me, and I am not sad that she is dead. I feel like 93 is a pretty good run. She was rarely sick. She had friends and was comfortable.

My dad speaks first, and he tells the congregation that his mother once told him that he could have searched the whole world over and he never could have found a better wife. This is for my mother, to whom my grandmother was also cruel.

The minister gives a dorky eulogy about salvation that doesn’t happen “in the big city,” but instead in “a little church in the prairie.” His language feels vaguely pornographic to me, all this talk of being “chosen” and “choosing,” and my grandmother saying yes to God, again and again she said yes. I can’t stop thinking, sitting in the back pew nursing my child where nobody might happen to see my breast, that there’s no way this guy voted for Obama.

The only time I feel moved is when my second cousin’s husband sings a solo, halting and occasionally off-key version of Beautiful Savior at the lectern. He struggles through all of the verses without looking up. In front of him, on a table decorated with flowers, my grandmother’s ashes are in a simple black box.

After the funeral we eat fried chicken in the church fellowship hall. My grandmother’s sister introduces me to a man who is clearly suffering from dementia.

“This is Emily,” my great-aunt says. “She wrote a book about her baby who died.”

“Who are you?” he asks. “Did somebody die?” He looks around the room. Someone is slowly releasing a Jell-O mold onto a plate in the kitchen. A woman in an apron dumps more chicken into a bowl on the buffet table.

“My grandmother died,” I say. “Lois died.”

My great aunt is frustrated. “Listen,” she says, tapping the table in front of the man.

He looks at her, then at her hands. “Yes? Who are you?”

“I’m Emily,” I say.

“She’s a writer,” my aunt continues, “and her first book is all about…well,” she says, and flaps her hand in the air. “You tell him how you was made wrong.”

Continue Reading…

Abuse, Anonymous, courage, Guest Posts, healing

There Are The Things I Remember.

February 26, 2015
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TRIGGER WARNING This article or section, or pages it links to, contain information about sexual assault and/or rape which may be triggering to survivors.

 

By Anonymous.

“I felt as if I were already redefining it, already dropping (ahead? behind?) into a state of retrospection.  I was worried that my memory wouldn’t do me any favours; that it would only make things worse… A constant tug of war: wanting to remember, wanting to forget… How was this journey, this movement to be mapped?”

- Emily Rapp, The Still Point of the Turning World                                    

 

Memory can be a tricky thing.  Our genetic makeup is clever; if something happens to us and we aren’t strong enough to remember, our mind and body has mechanisms to make that memory go away or to minimize the damage of the memory’s daily impact.

I never forgot being raped.  I had memories of it, but I pushed them away until they didn’t bother coming around anymore.  But my secrets were impacting my insides deeply, and then the memories came back daily on their own, knocking, seeking acknowledgement.

Continue Reading…

death, Grief, Guest Posts

Witnessing Beauty After The Death Of My Mother.

November 5, 2014
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beauty-hunting-jen-logo-blackBy Sarah Dwyer.

Life is beautiful when you’re seventeen-years-old spending your summer in the south of France. On one of the last days of my study abroad program in Nice, France in the summer of 2008, my friends and I stumbled across a jewelry and art market. While wandering around we found a ring stating, “la vie est belle” and instantly fell in love. With it being the end of our trip, we were all low on cash and none of us bought it, although we always wished we did and continue to use that phrase to describe our trip. Life was beautiful. Of course, it was.

A few days earlier we were sitting on a train after a day trip to Italy when two Australian guys jumped on with guitars. Not long after the guys boarded the train, they fiddled with their guitars until it developed into “The Tide is High” by Blondie. The guys started singing, my friends and I started singing, and gradually others joined until the whole train was singing. Strangers from all different countries singing together on a train with views of the Mediterranean—life doesn’t get much more beautiful than that.

Before that trip, I had never really thought about life as a beautiful thing, but since seeing that ring, I have thought about it often. Through the combination of my exploration of beauty and the process of losing my mother, who passed away from cancer this June, I realized that life can still be beautiful even in the not so obvious times. I’m not talking about finding the silver-lining or searching for the light at the end of the tunnel. Those are useful ways of finding beauty, but they require effort and are sometimes impossible to find in the midst of a tragic moment. The type of beauty that I’m referring to does not take any work on our part to experience. Instead, it envelopes us quite naturally and uncontrollably and all we have to do—are able to do—is stand there and take it in. We can choose to just accept and acknowledge the beauty, or poke, prod and analyze it like artwork in a museum. I’m still not sure which option is more valuable, but since I’ve made this discovery, I’ve found myself dabbling in a little bit of both.

Sometimes a situation truly and honestly sucks and sometimes the worst thing you could ever imagine happening to you, happens to you. It doesn’t mean every moment of it isn’t beautiful. Take losing your mother, for instance. And not just her actual death, but the process of losing her both quickly and slowly at the same time. Continue Reading…

Video

Video: What Are The Excuses You Are Using To (Not) Make Shit Happen In Your Life?

July 24, 2014


Are Your Excuses Keeping You From Making Shit Happen aka Manifesting?

“I don’t know how. I don’t have enough time. I am too old. I am too tired. I’m not good at it.” Bla bla bla. Excuses, excuses. What are some of yours? Today’s Vlog is on calling bullshit on our excuses. Post your thoughts below and as always, please share. Love, jen.

See you this weekend Seattle. Sunday is sold out but Saturday’s workshop has space. Click here to book. You do NOT have to be a yogi. Just be a human.

The writing/yoga retreat with Emily Rapp in Vermont is sold out but please email jen@thetravelyogi.com to be added to wait list.

Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Manifestation Retreats, Owning It!, Self Image

Comfortable In My Humanness.

December 16, 2013

Comfortable In My Humanness by Emily Beecher.

What Happened When I Went To A Retreat in Another Country With People I Didn’t Know….

I was, quite frankly, FREAKING OUT!!!!!

My normal hairdresser had left the salon so I was trying someone new. Someone she recommended. Someone who had just dyed my hair the completely wrong colour. It was too dark, too purple-y red, not copper-y and very much completely not me. I hated it. I hated the way it made me look. I hated the way it made me feel. In less than 72 hours I was getting on a plane to fly to Vermont for a yoga and writing retreat led by two incredible people I respect immensely. And my hair was ALL WRONG. What would people think of me? Would they think this is how I WANTED my hair? That this was the way I normally look? That this was the real me? There was only one thing to do. I had to cancel.

I mean it wasn’t just the hair – I hadn’t been away from my daughter for more than 48 hours since she was born (four years ago) and she’d JUST been up all night with a bit of a cough which was clearly going to turn into something like pleurisy if I went away, and really? What was I thinking? Me at a yoga retreat? With my fat post baby (ahem) body? Bending and stretching and being all zen and tree like surrounded by tall, long, lithe, young, obviously all blonde, glamazons who could do headstands for hours on their immaculate pony tails whilst I had trouble touching my toes because my boobs and belly created a formidable Berlin wall between my upper and lower body. And it’s not like I’m really a writer anyway. I didn’t even know I could write until a couple of years ago but I hadn’t written for myself anything more than a grocery list for months. What delusion had I suffered to make me book this retreat?

Actually, I knew the answer to that. Devastation. Five months previously a project I had been working on, a musical about the trials and tribulations of motherhood, had imploded. Spectacularly. I was betrayed by people I called friends, my professional reputation was tarnished, I lost my life savings and almost three years of hard, unpaid work, my sense of determination and belief in myself demolished. I was a wreck. I literally wanted to die. Broken, I had booked a trip back to Canada to spend time with my family and put some distance between the raw chaos of London and my wounded self. It was there, late at night, I read about the retreat. I fired Jen an email, essentially saying that I didn’t do yoga so how much of the yoga/writing retreat was about yoga. She responded saying its not at all yoga yoga-y, she thought that I was funny and she’d decided I was going. She thinks I’m funny? I booked it.

And now here I was, with hideous hair and a plague infected child and with some distance from the show’s collapse I could clearly see how I must have been delusional when I booked it.

I told my best friend that I was going to cancel it and he looked at me, shook his head and told me to shut up and get packing. Not usually one to do what I’m told, I’m so grateful I did.

My flight was the first sign that something was different. This was the first time in four years I was flying without a child attached to me. Anyone who has suffered the particular circle of hell that is flying with a child will understand what this means: an intoxicating freedom of choosing a movie you want to watch and not having to repeat “Please don’t kick the nice man’s seat” eight hundred thousand times. Just to make sure I didn’t forget how much of a luxury this experience was on all four of my flights the seat next to me was always empty. Just me and my phantom child flying 3000 miles to take a few days off, to do something for myself. Even if I didn’t look like myself.

Somewhere around 35000 feet in the air I made the decision that I would NEVER mention my hair while I was on the retreat. I mean if I was constantly apologizing for my hair I wouldn’t really be able to apologize for not being bendy or a good writer, which were, I figured, even worse things than my fucked up hair. I would just pretend that this was actually me and maybe they wouldn’t notice.

They all noticed my hair. In fact I think, over the four days almost every person at one time or another, whether in person or in creating our lists of Five Most Beautiful Things, told me how they loved my hair. The first time it happened I had to forcibly choke back the apology of how this wasn’t the way it was supposed to look. But then the magic happened. Or rather, twenty-two magical people happened.

I noticed it the first evening, in the hot tub, drinking wine (this really was my kind of yoga retreat!) when an absolutely stunning girl with a smile to rival the moon tried to tell me, through the guise of of an off hand appology/explanation how she couldn’t really be in her new relationship, couldn’t let herself be loved by this amazing man because of all the things that were not right about her. Things I couldn’t even contemplate seeing in her because all I saw was her beautiful smile and welcoming warmth.

As the hours passed I repeatedly tripped over the same message. These incredible people who shared stories of loss and pain didn’t see their own strength and beauty – only the reasons why they were never enough. They hadn’t tried hard enough, hadn’t given enough, weren’t nice or accommodating enough, weren’t beautiful enough, weren’t deserving, were too fucked up, too selfish, too hurt or angry or beaten down or useless. Given the way we spoke about ourselves you would have been forgiven for expecting the room to be full of broken, grey, miserable people. But it wasn’t. It was full of smiles and encouragement and hugs and a collection of the most brilliant laughs I’ve ever heard. Then a little tiny seedling planted itself in my brain… if these people were so wrong about themselves – could I be wrong about me?

As Jen repeatedly reminded us with the Marianne Williamson quote “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” And Emily made us write our truth in feverishly bursts that forced us to pour our words out onto the page as quickly as possible so we could outrun our built in editors, that seedling thought started to flourish and grow.

I settled into myself. I dressed for dinner (I mean if there wasn’t a chance of a child pouring food all over me then dammit I was going to put something nice on). I didn’t put make up on to do yoga. (I know right?) I stopped prefacing every piece of writing I read out with “well this isn’t very good but…”

On the last night some of us had an impromptu kitchen dance party. I was still in my sweaty yoga clothes. My immaculate blow dry replaced by my crazy natural curls. My face bare. I didn’t think about it as we sang Call Me Maybe and danced and lassooed each other. Someone took pictures. A week or so after the retreat, when I was back to my old life, trying not to apologize for who I was, I received a facebook email telling me the pictures were online and I was struck by a lightning rod of panic. But, but, but I didn’t have make up on and I wasn’t holding in my stomach and I wasn’t trying to have my best side captured and my hair – oh god my hair was frizzy and that terrible colour and now someone has produced photographic proof of how hideous I am. (It doesn’t take long for all that good work to be replaced by bad habits!)

It took me over a week to look at those pictures. Over a week, and half a bottle of wine. Ready to be repulsed I hovered over the mousepad until finally, I clicked. Then cried. Then laughed. I didn’t see a hideous person, I didn’t see my belly or fat arms, I didn’t see purple-y frizzy hair or a lack of polish. I saw love. Big, fat, giant smiles of joy and play and LOVE LOVE LOVE. Love for each other, love for the opportunity to share, to listen, to be understood and even, maybe, a little bit of love for ourselves.

Opportunities like this are precious – even though we know we’re changing at the time, the true value of what we are experiencing is only truly shown in time. As Elizabth Kubler Ross once said “People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.”

Our retreat was the proverbial bellows to my tiny light. Now, two months later I write this changed. Striving. Opened. Comfortable in my self. Comfortable in my flaws. Comfortable in my humanness. No longer FREAKING OUT. And full of love. Whatever my hair looks like.

Emily and some of pother retreat go-fers at Jen Pastiloff and Emily Rapp's retreat in Vermont.

Emily and some of pother retreat go-fers at Jen Pastiloff and Emily Rapp’s retreat in Vermont.

Arriving at the airport in Vermont, waiting for the other retreat people ;)

Arriving at the airport in Vermont, waiting for the other retreat people ;)

THE RETREAT a poem by Emily Beecher

Amongst the trees of orange and gold

we stand

tall

as the hours pass

we spill hot anger and resentment

forcing our hearts to sweat in stillness

Amongst the trees of orange and gold

we cry

silently

touching the sweet earth,

our bodies bent like willows

surrendering to icy storms

We reawaken our passions

like buds opening to bloom,

slowly, carefully, then freely

Amongst the trees of orange and gold

we dance

loudly

to the songs of our youth

later, skinny dipping

under the ripened Vermont moon

Amongst the trees of orange and gold

We abandon our self-consciousness

replacing it with connection,

rediscovering our selves

before packing them away

Like antique cars restored to former glory

so are we

rebuilt anew

amongst the trees of orange and gold

Emily Beecher lives in London and most recently attended Jennifer Pastiloff and Emily Rapp’s writing retreat in Vermont. 

Emily is a film & tv producer, writer, actress and proud single mama to her precocious two year old daughter.

Her acting work includes the cult classic short film Making Juice: The Making of JUICE (Charlie Productions) as well as appearing in Coma Girl (Vista Films), The Power of Love (Script Stuff), The Paper Trail (Hot Little Biscuits) and presenting Plugged In! and Are We There Yet? for Rogers Cable in Canada.

She conceived and produced the documentary/concert series Voices for Bulembu which raised over $1 million for the Bulembu charity in Swaziland. She has created commercials for Hasbro, Activision, Universal, Nintendo, Warner Brothers, Mattel and Nickelodeon. Her corporate film clients have included the Labour party, Amicus, TUC, and Shelter.

A published writer, Emily helped with the creation of blush magazine (Canada) and has consulted on several video games, film scripts and the Patient Zero comic book series.

After stepping away from the world of media to indulge in all facets of motherhood Emily is incredibly thrilled to be back with her new baby, The Good Enough Mums Club.

courage, Manifestation Retreats, writing

Take Risks.

November 6, 2013
designed by Simplereminders.com

designed by Simplereminders.com

 

Take risks.

That’s what I got out of the writing retreat I just led with Emily Rapp and a whole bunch of bad ass writers last weekend in Vermont.

There was the fifteen year old who came with her mom because she thought she’d “get to miss some school.” Turns out she wouldn’t get to miss school as it was over a holiday weekend, but she came anyway. She came, and we all watched her rise to the occasion—in her writing, in her relationship with her mom and with the world.

I have everyone give each person at the retreat a note with the five most beautiful things about that person—so essentially you leave with twenty-six or forty (or however many people are there) love notes. It’s part of my 5 Most Beautiful Things Project.

The note I received from the fifteen year old blew me away, as did the email she sent me right after the retreat, which read:

“Dear Jen,

I can honestly say this has been one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had. A few months ago, I overheard my mom talking to my dad about wanting to go on a yoga retreat. When I heard, I told my mom I wanted to go, too. I wanted to go because I thought I would miss school for it. Then about a month ago, I found out it was over fall break, and I would miss no school. But I am so glad I still came. I am only fifteen, and everyone was a lot older than me. It was a different experience, but a great experience. I learned so much from every single person there. I learned that writing is more than just words on a piece of paper. It is meaning and feelings put into a story that you can share with people or keep to yourself. Jen, you are truly an amazing teacher. Like I said in my most beautiful things about you, you may be hard of hearing, but you are one of the best listeners I know. Whenever I said something on the retreat, even if it was just a little sentence, you would give me the most amazing advice that I will keep and remember forever.”

Take risks. Do it anyway. Show up, even if you’re scared. Especially if you’re scared.

I loved watching the teenager at our retreat. She stepped out of her comfort zone and became our teacher. All of us sat watching her to see what she would say next and next and next. To be that free, that uninhibited at fifteen. How about at twenty-seven, at thirty-eight, at fifty-four? we all thought as we sat amidst our yoga mats and notebooks and blankets. To be that free.

Same with the lone guy who showed up. Twenty-five years old and the most beautiful and vulnerable man I have met. To be that free. Even if it’s scary. (Which it was, for both of them. For all of them.)

Sit down and write. (Or, whatever it is you do, do that.)

I look back on old writings of mine and see where I could have taken risks but chose not to. Why? (Who knows? Why do any of us stay in our comfort zones?) Laziness, safety, fear of what “they” will think. Who knows? Who cares.

From here on out, I am deeming myself a risk-taker, a live-lifer, an I will not take no for an answer kind of person, even when life seems to be saying No No No.

From there, I will write. From that place, I will show up, in my writing, in my life.

Playing safe is for the birds. I am tired of being a bird. Show up. Go big.
@JenPasstiloff (Click to Tweet!)

**this post originally appeared on Positively Positive.

5 Most Beautiful Things

The #5MostBeautifulThings Contest Winner As Chosen By Author Emily Rapp.

June 25, 2013

This was a huge undertaking and much harder than I had originally thought it would be. I literally got hundreds and hundreds of essays and entries. I hope that everyone feels like they won even if they didn’t win the retreat. By becoming a beauty seeker our lives begin to shift. That was, and is, my intention. To help create a tribe of beauty seekers. Sure, I wish I could let every single person who entered come on the retreat but, this is life, I can only have one.

The three runners up will each get a pair of JUIL sandals and a yoga mat bag. Juils are, by far, my favorite shoes. I am a proud ambassador to this company and will be wearing my Juil’s all over Italy in a few days. Click here to see the site. The 3 Juil winners are Mirela Gegprifti, Rachel Popowcer and Jane Harris. Their essays will be published via The Manifest-Station in the next few weeks.

Beauty, unremitting like this, so hard to come by-

And yet it is everywhere, this beauty.

You can’t ignore something so beautiful.

Make your list and keep filling it up and when there is no room get a new paper and keep going and going and going. You will amaze yourself. You will find that you are actively looking for beauty wherever you are. No matter what. And what else is the point? What is beauty for if not to lighten us up from the inside out and sometimes, from the outside in?

There were so many essays to choose from that the only fair way for me to pick was to pass it on. Emily Rapp, best selling author of The Still Point of The Turning World, was the one who chose the final winner. We loved so many of them but sadly, she could only pick one final winner. The winner of the retreat is Marika Delan.

I hope you all got something out of this and will enter my next contest. It was life changing for me to read all of your essays and tweets and watch the videos. This was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. That’s a beautiful thing. Utterly beautiful. You all took this on as if your life depended on finding the beauty. And doesn’t it?

What if we walked around looking for beauty instead of looking for things to be stressed about or offended by? What if we became beauty hunters? What if we told more beautiful stories? What if it was all we saw, even in the dirt? What if we trained our eyes and our hearts to tune into that which makes us cock our head to one side and close our eyes gently in an effort to memorize what we were looking at. What if it is all we got?

What if all we have is our 5 beautiful things?

Here is Marika’s essay:

Singing silver buttons: Finding holiness in the washing machine and other things rabbis say By Marika Rosenthal Delan

Before I was even aware of my deep love for words and the tapestry we weave with them, I think there must have been a knowing that someday I would meticulously mold the letters that would spell out the words waiting to set me free. That is now if only I could stay awake long enough to find a way to pick the lock where I imprisoned them long ago.

Being a mother of young children I have trouble keeping my heavy eyelids open to wade knee deep in chapter after chapter of carefully chosen and perfectly placed words. I remember the hanging on each word– savoring books for hours when I was a kid. Nights of devouring a book in one sitting, unable to control my hunger for more until I finally closed the back cover in a blissfully warm word coma. Those words that change and morph inside you when your eyes absorb them, incorporating them permanently into the fabric of your young and buoyant soul.

Sometimes that now older, less buoyant soul starts to sink a little. Now my nightly mantra is— “Oh, tonight I’m not going to fall asleep putting the kids to bed.” But I have to keep it real and to what I know I can stay awake for given my child- induced narcolepsy. Nowadays I read and write in bits and pieces in the middle of the night on my iPhone. The truth is, I really haven’t done a lot of reading or writing since I was in high school—that is until Jennifer Pastiloff lit a fire under my ass about what seems like every single thing I have ever avoided in my entire life. So I guess you could say, I have been easing back into my literary self in small doses; trying it on for size.

Bits and pieces and small groupings of words,

phrases, quotes—-poems, essays;

somethings scribbled on scraps of paper.

I love reading snippets of thoughts and dreams and musings of those wise and unorthodox souls who dared record their observings somewhere, someday for someone to discover and say

I’ve never looked at it that way before.

I suppose I’m looking for the answer to some secret of sorts. The secret that each of us brings our own perspective, our own beauty, our own truths waiting to be revealed to us in the most mundane, or pragmatic, and sometimes most profane of ways.

But I keep searching for my muse. Some days I wait for her to show and she comes silently, hiding amidst the lonely unmatched socks somewhere–forcing me look in every pocket and zipper; every buttoned-up, inside-out bundled-up mess.

Today I found it in the washing machine.

What started out as an attempt to win my chance at a coveted spot at a Jennifer Pastiloff yoga retreat, turned into a total and complete shift in my paradigm.

And ironically it wasn’t the obviously beautiful things that were responsible for this tectonic shift. During the course of my commitment to find beautiful things a lot of decidedly not so beautiful things happened….

After losing 3 weeks worth of writing and photos in a tragic hard drive crash (including what was to be this essay), I tried my best to see the blessing in the pain. I told myself that I could get them back, but I knew that they were gone. Like your favorite lip balm you realize you left in your jacket pocket only after its been in the dryer on high heat for an hour. The container is still there, but the contents are empty and there is a stain all over your clothes.

It’s so weird that this computer, this machine, my writing companion, was alive and breathing with my words running through it’s code one day — and pronounced dead the next with all those pieces of me now locked away inside of it forever.

But it was in having to search for more inspiration to rewrite all that was lost that I found this gem, this diamond in the rough……

“Can you see the holiness in those things you take for granted–a paved road or a washing machine? If you concentrate on finding what is good in every situation, you will discover that your life will suddenly be filled with gratitude, a feeling that nurtures the soul.” – Rabbi Harold Kushner

Well most days, no, I admittedly don’t see the holiness in my washing machine.

I was still sitting shiva over my beloved companion, mourning the cool glow of it’s illuminated fruit when we lost all water pressure.

When we lost our power for a day and a half, and our water for 2 ½ days because our pipes burst, not once but twice. When I no longer had the privilege of a clean pair of socks, I began to understand the value of this little nugget of rabbinical wisdom I had stumbled upon.

I paid reverence quickly each time I turned on a switch and no light came on. I realized how much I rely on the light when I want to see something clearly.

I quickly noticed when I tried to wash a load of the umpteen loads of laundry I needed to wash and the washer didn’t sing it’s usual pleasant little song when I hit the pretty silver button.

But here I find myself, standing in a pile of dirty laundry the size of Mount Everest looking for something.

That thing.

Looking for it like the 20 I know I left in the back pocket of my favorite jeans.

That thing that I know is the thing I’ve been searching for ever since I remember knowing that I should be searching for things.

That essence of life that always felt just beyond my grasp because of this imperfection or that distraction. That something that could be maintained for fleeting moments when I was with my family, or in some majestic place, or if some shiny thing caught my eye. That intangible something that would always get lost somewhere between the moment and whichever of my insecurities happened to have its foot on my throat at the time, keeping me from fully inhabiting this shell of a soul. This body.

This life.

Looking back, I know now I wasn’t living in my body at all. It was too painful with so much hatred for everything I was. It was more comfortable right outside of my own peripheral vision. The picture light above my askew portrait with it’s dirty bulb blackened and yellow and burned. Colors runny and muddy, grey and all it’s variations but nothing black or white. Dusty oil brushstrokes laid down on the canvas of my life, splashed and spattered; hanging crooked above a dirty plaid couch in a basement somewhere. After having played hide and seek for so long I forgot what I was looking for, it occurs to me that I won’t find it here in this dark and musty place.

But now, stepping into the sun, I find it, pulsating on the ground.

Waiting for me to pick it up and finally fully feel what it is to be alive.

I found it yesterday when my daughter was blowing bubbles. The wind caught a trail of her freshly blown bubbles and carried them in a spiral whoosh up the stairs. Gossamer purple and green spheres, caught in an invisible current, dancing like a DNA helix up into the air where a final gust popped her new fragile and shining baubles into nothingness.

She looked up at me with her huge blue pools of love, full of absolute wonder at what we had seen. And I was there for it.

It took my breath away.

I found it today when my son finished kindergarten. When he looked at me with such inquisitiveness about what he would learn in the 1st grade. When I listened to him read so fluently and effortlessly and he looked at me with such a sense of accomplishment in his eyes, my heart felt like it was breaking open spilling my mama-ness everywhere.

I’m homeschooling him. He’s a challenge, but of course he would have to be because he’s the freaking most amazing kid I know. He’s reminds me of everything it means to be creative and beautifully odd and happy.

He has taught me patience where I had none. Not that I don’t still need a lot of work so he always brings his A game, whether it’s just his extra-kinetic boy-ness or asking me difficult questions. Explaining things so children understand them gives you a new perspective on how you see the world, and ultimately how your child will see the world.

I never considered myself a teacher, although in some sense I have been teaching for a long time. And here I find myself teaching the most important student I will ever have— my own child.

The responsibility on my heart is sometimes heavy with self-doubt and the unknown and everything that comes between, but the edges catch those gusts of wind and floating up I know that somehow faith will carry us through our unmapped journey and he will grow into the beautiful boy he is and will be.

It takes my breath away.

The responsibility we hold in our hands and sometimes treat not so delicately.

Not so sacredly.

To keep seeking, to keep going,

to keep looking for beauty when the world keeps telling you that what you see is somehow flawed or broken or sometimes too asleep to even notice.

Or when what we see is ugly.

And it is sometimes.

Or when life is difficult, or you’re in a funk, or you want to be in a funk (I didn’t even have an awareness of wanting such a thing until this most beautiful things practice- What? Why would I want to be in a funk? Quiet observation showed me a number of reasons of which I may or may not have been previously aware….. I was lazy, or mad, or or I wanted to stay mad, or resentful, or tired, or because it’s someone else’s fault or ….. God forbid it’s because it’s what I always do ).

But the beautiful things.

What are my most beautiful things?

When you start to look,

it’s the catch in your breath.

It’s the pause at the previously overlooked everyday whatever, I’ve seen it a million times before.

It’s most definitely the most astonishingly beautiful thing on the planet.

This being alive, this being here, right now, with this awareness of myself and who I am and in this Eden we live in.

Amok

in this paradise that we sometimes regard as a slum;

amidst the most beautiful people ever I’ve had the honor to share with

this time,

this space;

and all the others—-those amongst the stars and stardust of those long ago born and those not yet birthed—those souls that somehow linger on the threshold of the here

and the once was

or the someday will be.

And all those where are we goings, and what are we doings…..

It’s those goings and those doings where you find your true beauty.

Fragments, and slivers and sub-sets of what you think you are and that which you become when you glue all the pieces back together; the puzzle of your own broken and fragile heart now complete.

Invisible forces are acting all around us without our conscious awareness.

The wind, the mind, the sun.

A huge burning ball of gas searing it’s signature into our skin from 93 million miles away leaving behind remnants of days on boats, and rivers, and pools of anything else a young girl might find herself floating in on those days when the tar in the cracks of the summer asphalt bubbles up like black jelly.

And the mind.

Oh the mind, run wild with weeds of unworthiness and the I’m a horrible person-ness and the I’m not enough-nesses.

The nesses.

I’ve so often put the weak in front of the nesses, I’ve convinced myself that my weaknesses are real and use them as an excuse for apathy, inaction;

for the I’m too tireds and I’m too olds.

Maybe it isn’t weakness at all.

Maybe what we call weakness is our inability to let ourselves be vulnerable.

So what I used to consider my greatest weakness—-maybe isn’t weakness at all.

My soft heart, my inability to override the impulse when I feel it well up inside me; hiding my wet eyes when I look around to see no one else has been so moved by some seemingly small gesture, or word,

or song.

Bringing me perspective each time I blink my eyes and wash away the film that is clouding my vision. Giving me pieces of that which perhaps we must keep seeking and searching for if we want to keep embracing this human life as it unfolds.

To live it with all the breath in our lungs, over and over until we leave this dimension,

this space,

this nothing was ever the sameness;

this nothing will ever be like this again-ness.

Perspective that comes from zooming out on your map, going up into the canopy as my husband always says, elevated where the air is clear;

where you can see the whole picture of this bittersweet life.

And when you do you see that even all the negative, horrible bad, mean, fucked-up-ness of this world pales in comparison to it’s searingly painful beauty.

Somewhere between finding my 5 most beautiful things and this newfound volition for doing things that make my heart pound with fear, I found myself.

Waiting there in the corner, to be noticed; to be seen as beautiful among all the other things I found.

How could I have known that I would be one of my most beautiful things?

This girl, (or rather, would be woman were I to label myself as such and I guess technically am but much prefer the youthfulness implied with girl—) who did nothing but hate myself for so long, now finding herself among the beauty. How did this happen?

By being pushed past my comfortable limits.

Out of my safe zone and onto the ledge where I dared look over the edge to see my fears—some of the deepest ones at the bottom calling out for me to jump.

And my dear Jen Pastiloff, if ever I dreamt of skydiving (I don’t) —-but if ever I did—–somehow I think you might convince me to jump.

I decided to jump (in retrospect to leap, really) with these 5 most beautiful things, initially because I wanted to come to your yoga retreat (I still do). But it didn’t take long for it to become infinitely more than that

Jumping meant I would make a video of myself describing my most beautiful things that day despite the fact that I avoid cameras at all costs (perhaps it’s one of the reasons I stay behind the camera)

Jumping meant I would do it in one take and send it despite having not watched it (I can’t bear to watch myself) and my starting to cry at an unexpected moment in the recording. What with the being self-conscious and all about being vulnerable even to the point of worrying after people started leaving the most meaningful and beautiful comments under my video, about what I said on the video. How I came across. What others must be judging about me. The familiar reel of they’re not going to like me anymore when they see what I’m really like; when I’m not behind a keyboard making everything look like hearts and flowers.

But what really happened took me aback. I realized that to this tribe of astonishingly beautiful people who were watching that video—-

I was beautiful.

When you don’t see yourself as any thing but flawed for as long as you have memory, when another recognizes your true beauty inside of this temporary housing— sometimes it’s only through the eyes of someone else that you can clearly see your own reflection finally free of the fun-house mirror image distorting your true self.

Jumping would mean that I would write my 5 most beautiful things without fail and thrust it out into cyberspace every day.

It meant that the days I was in a bad mood and wanted stay in my funk, I would find my most beautiful things anyway.

It meant that finding beautiful things didn’t allow me the comfort of my old sullen, withdrawn and depressed space in the corner.

It kicked me out on my pitiful ass and told me to find a new place to dwell.

Or the day I was in pain and struggling and in a fit of anger erased my most beautiful things list — after which I felt ashamed and embarrassed wondering how many times I’ve erased the most beautiful things in front of me letting the deceivingly delible ink of self-pity scribble over my artwork,

my muse,

my life.

“The whole of the life — even the hard — is made up of the minute parts, and if I miss the infinitesimals, I miss the whole. These are new language lessons, and I live them out. There is a way to live the big of giving thanks in all things. It is this: to give thanks in this one small thing.”

― Ann Voskamp

So here’s to the infinitesimals.

To beaches and bubble wands and running water

And washers that sing when you press their shiny silver buttons.

To standing in my most grounded pose, no longer a poser but a deeply rooted tree, in the wake of the Pacific — among the sun-baked and frozen loops of brown kelp at my feet.

To looking out on the horizon that was dark when I began writing , now starting to glow behind massive mountainous shadows,

and children laughing in their sleep.

To learning to read and unlearning the unserving,

To the tiny moments I count with bated breath,

and those I longed for and lingered in,

cherished and cursed.

I’ve learned a new language of Love,

of beauty, of living,

of giving thanks for all things;

And a new sung prayer that whispers and echoes in my ear and it is this:

In all of these moments, let grace be my muse.

These are my most beautiful Things.

Uncategorized

Always Be Telling Truth or You Should Only Be Happy.

March 3, 2013

My belief is that when you’re telling the truth, you’re close to God. ~ Anne Lamott

I met my friend Robert Wilder yesterday in the lobby of the Inn Of The Anasazi in Santa Fe, where I had slept the night before. I’d stayed in the hotel room of my friend Katie from L.A., who coincidently, also happened to be in Santa Fe. Her trip had been planned. Mine not so much. Ronan passed away on February 15th and the memorial was chosen for this weekend so I booked my flight just a few days ago.

Robert asked how I knew Katie and I told him that she took my classes but that now we had become close friends.

Robert’s a writer (a fantastic one) and a high school English school teacher. (He calls his students High Schooligans if that gives you an indication of his cool teacher status.) The Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society kind of teacher, the kind you appreciate much later upon looking back at who formed you, at who maybe taught you to really love books and writing and expressing yourself. My “Robert Wilder” was Mrs. Lifshey in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, who I remembering running into when I was getting my hair done for my senior prom. I had been trying on a rhinestone pair of earrings and she’d spotted me as she sat getting her own hair highlighted. She bought me the expensive fake diamond earrings “anonymously” that my mother couldn’t afford at the time. (My mom knew and didn’t keep it anonymous. Obviously.)

Robert and I sat on the leather sofa in the lobby of the Inn of the Anasazi and he asked me Is it hard to be friends with your students? 

Is it hard? Well, first off, I don’t have students. He has students. He is an English teacher to teenagers. I write and teach yoga. I write things that people respond to. (Sometimes.) In no way do I think of them as my students. That feels pretentious  and sort of holy to me. I’d rather think of them as my tribe. Or not-student students.

But yes, it can be hard I suppose. Like being a person in the world can be hard or being a daughter or a wife can be hard. Like how anything you love can be hard.

Here’s why it can be hard with my not-student students: I am afraid to expose myself and have them see that I am a regular person who gets depressed and thinks she looks fat sometimes and drinks too much coffee and wine and doesn’t always walk the talk.

I write about all that (and more) but there is a difference in writing about it and then actually having someone see you in the flesh as the youest you there is.

My belief is that when you are telling the truth, you are close to God. So says Anne Lamott. Yet and still, my paper creates a chasm, a separation. A wall between me and everyone else in the world. There is a distance between the reader and myself even when I am being my most vulnerable and truthful.

There is a little bit of Us and Them when you are standing in front of a class. You are in a glass case and although everyone can hear you no one can really get in. There is a you can’t really see me even though you think you can.

When you are with someone in person over lunch that distance is minimized and then there they are right up in your face, their eyes all over you, their minds making up stories and facts.

Or not.

A couple months ago I went to Atlanta to see my sister and nephews and to lead a workshop. My sister mentioned to me that she had said something to my friend (who had started as a not-student student) something about me always being on my phone.

I was horrified.

I told my sister that she should have not said that to this person. That it made me look bad and that I had an image to uphold. (Ha!) Me always being on my phone suggested that I wasn’t present, that I was full of shit. How dare she say that to someone who takes my classes? She felt bad and said that she thought this person and I were really close friends. We are I said. But still.

But still.

There is no but still.

The distance was zippered up and there was no space between us anymore and it’s true I look at my phone too much. It’s an addiction. I didn’t want that side of me exposed because in my mind it was bad enough I was friends with my not-student student but now they would see all my faults and that I was full of shit and they wouldn’t be my student or my not-student student and possibly not even my friend. (Oh, the stories! The stories!)

I brought it up at the workshop that weekend in Atlanta where my sister and the friend/ not-student student were both in attendance. My belief is that when you’re telling the truth, you’re close to God. I told the story and shared my shame and used it as an example of where I wasn’t living a congruent life. I also used it as a way to express what I felt about there not being a division between me and my not-student students.

They are people. I am people. The same.

I was terrified I would become some sort of fallen icon. As teachers of any kind, we’ve all had people become fixated or obsessed and tell us How Amazing We Are and then one day they get bored or decide you are a Real Life Human Being and you never hear from them again.

I was terrified that someone who sees me as an inspiration would realize I look at my iPhone too much and that I don’t pay enough attention and dismiss me.

My belief is that when you’re telling the truth, you’re close to God.

So yea, Rob I said on the couch there. It is hard sometimes.

But it’s only hard when I make it so. Yes, it is hard for me to be friends with everyone. (I am not special in that truth.) No one can be there for every single person nor should they be. I can’t get back to everyone. I can’t go to everyone’s play or class or band or whatever it may be, but, there are indeed some people that I meet because they take my class or read my writing or come on a retreat and who I know I want to have a glass of wine with. It is incidental to me that we met through my yoga class or my retreat or my blog. Why should I be any better than them or put myself on a pedestal because I teach them how to do a downdog or because they read an essay and feel inspired by something I said?

The only time it’s hard is when someone puts an unrealistic expectation on me or when I try to make everyone happy. I can’t do that. (I’d like to remember more often that I can’t do that. I’d like us all to remember more often that we can’t do that.)

But it’s also not hard I said. The most natural thing for me is connecting with people. When I meet someone that I want to know better it doesn’t matter if I am their “teacher.”

Look, everyone in my life is my teacher. You. You reading this. Everyone. (We should all recognize this more often.)

Look, I do want to do better.

I want to do better than yesterday at least. I want to be more present and not look at my phone so much and to never gossip and all the rest, but the people who learn from me are pretty clear that I am not a guru and I am as down to earth as they come.

Yet I also want to live a congruent life. That is what it really boils down to. My belief is that when you’re telling the truth, you’re close to God.

I tell people to pay attention and notice what fills them with awe and wonder and to write down their five most beautiful things and yet I am not present? It’s not that it’s because I am their teacher and they are my student that I want to be congruent or do better but rather I want to Always Be Telling The Truth.

ABTTT. Always Be Telling The Truth. And if my nose is stuck in my phone texting and I am not looking out the window, well then, I am missing my own five most beautiful things, aren’t I?

If someone takes my class and then we become friends and they decide they no longer want to take my class because the boundary has been crossed or because I curse or don’t do enough of my own yoga practice, well then, so be it. What can I do? They come, they go, they come again and all the while I am here ABTTT or doing my best version of it.

My belief is that when you’re telling the truth, you’re close to God.

The truth is that I can’t be friends with everybody. (Neither can you.) Nor do I want to. (Neither can you. Trust me.) Nor do you want to. So get over it. Not possible.

I can love as best as I can and I can keep teaching and writing but I cannot be friends with every single person who takes my class or reads me. It’s not humanly possible and that’s okay. The people pleasing days are falling away and the days of ABTTT are coming fast and hard.

Today is one year since my beloved Steve Bridges died. I came to Santa Fe on Thursday for Ronan’s memorial. I have been to Santa Fe a few times while Ronan was alive to visit him and his mom Emily Rapp, but this time was the first time I got altitude sickness. My heart woke me on Friday night beating as fast as a heart can beat before it explodes.

I thought I was dying.

I started to have an anxiety attack which may have been triggered by the racing heart or my monkey mind. (Take your pick.) My lips cracked and I was sweating and freezing at the same time which is as awful a combination as milk and soda. I am dying as I crawled through my friend Heather’s cute Santa Fe house in the dark in search of something that might save me. I found coconut water.

I forgot that it was the anniversary of Steve’s death today until his sister texted me It’s one year and then I realized it wasn’t altitude sickness at all. ABTTT. My body remembered as it always does even though my brain might not agree to.

My belief is that when you’re telling the truth, you’re close to God.

I miss him. That’s the truth. And yes, he started as a not-student student. I miss him and not in that way we say to everyone and their mother on Facebook when we haven’t seen them for a week. I miss you I miss you I miss you when we don’t really mean it.

I miss him. And I will never ever see him again. At least not in this lifetime. My body was rejecting the whole weekend. Ronan’s memorial, my husband’s cousin’s funeral Saturday and Steve’s anniversary of death. Too much it said. Too much! Too much my body whimpered.

So what does it matter if someone takes my classes and also eats pancakes with me? It doesn’t. It would matter if I was a vastly different person on paper or in class that I am in “real life’ but I am not. (To a fault I am pretty much the same.)

They are people. I am people. The same.

Most of the people in my life now entered via my yoga classes or my writings. I say Thank God for the not-student students who have turned into beloveds. Thank God I found you.

As I was getting on the plane (you guessed it, I am writing this from the airplane) I saw an old man reading an even older looking book called You Should Only Be Happy.

The book was written by a Jewish man and from what I could gather was a lot about Jewish culture (although you should google it because I could be way off and just making up a story.) I started talking to the man and he was an old Jew from New York  who now lived in Santa Fe. I chuckled as he held my hand. I said So are you part of the Tribe? (an oft asked semi-obnoxious question Jews sometimes ask one another) and he looked at me and said Isn’t everybody?

Isn’t everybody? 

So, is it hard to be friends with my students? Yes and no and everything in between.

Aren’t we all human? Isn’t, as my new airport friend put it, everybody part of the tribe. Isn’t everybody?

You Should Only Be Happy. Always Be Telling The Truth. Stop Looking at Your Phone So Much. Pay Attention. Drink More Water. Honor The Dead. Drink With Loved Ones. Eat Bread Baked By Your Friends. Have More Sex. Read Anne Lamott and Cheryl Strayed. Do Some Yoga.

Look, I could go on and on but then I would be sounding like a teacher. I would be sounding like I knew what the hell I was talking about.

They are people. I am people.

The same.

~~~~

Dedicated to Steve Bridges and Ronan and Robert Wilder and Emily Rapp and the old man in the airport and Heather and Katie and my sister and anyone else I have ever loved or crossed paths with regardless of how we met. We are the same.

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as always by simplereminders.com

as always by simplereminders.com

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And So It Is, How To, loss

No Such Thing As Right.

February 27, 2013

You think you know what is right but you don’t. There’s no such thing.

There is only I am feeling my way around in the dark here and this feels like the table and this feels like the light switch but you never know until you know. Sometimes it’s when you flip the switch and the light actually comes on. Sometimes it’s not for years and sometimes you never know.

On Sunday my husband was about to get on a plane to go to a funeral in St Louis when his cousin called him from St. Louis and said that they were now going to have the funeral in L.A. and there was no point anymore for him to come. My husband’s cousin died 2 weeks ago when he’d had a heart attack and then crashed the tow truck he was driving. His wife had been in St. Louis at the time where they live. She flew out to L.A. immediately, and tried, in her blubbering hysterics, to decide if they should ship the body back to St. Louis or keep it in L.A.. My husband asked me what I thought.

I never go visit my father at his cemetery. He is buried in a Jewish cemetery in Pennsauken, New Jersey and it makes me feel depressed and cold. His tombstone is near a family friend’s who died of ovarian cancer when I was 18 and also the four brothers I’d gone to elementary school with who died in a fire.

I used to have extreme guilt about not going until I got very clear that my father was absolutely not there under that headstone. My father and I chat a lot in our dead-father to alive-daughter way and lord knows I write about him enough. He’s right here. He definitely is not there.

He stopped being anywhere in this world when he died in 1983, in fact. I can’t say what’s beyond but I can tell you that his physical body stopped breathing and that he know longer existed as a walking talking Melvin David Pastiloff. I can tell you that 100% for certain.

When Robert asked me what I thought I told him that it was a very personal choice but that I didn’t see the point of shipping the body as it wasn’t him anymore. The body has nothing to do with him at this point. But who am I to say? He told me that the wife would want to visit him at the cemetery once a week. (Naturally I felt a little guilty when I heard that being that I haven’t visited my father’s grave in years.) Once a week? That’s a lot. Okay, maybe she should ship the body. I don’t know.

There is no right with this, I said. There is only keep moving. Keep breathing.

So he was about to get on the plane and they called and said Don’t come and I went back and picked him back where I’d dropped him 2 hours earlier at LAX. They are having the funeral here in L.A. now. So much back and forth. No one could decide as if they were waiting for someone to come up with the right answer.

There is no right answer.

My mother didn’t let my sister and I go to our father’s funeral. She has no idea now why she made that choice. Someone probably told her that it was the right thing to do or that we would have nightmares. I have spent my whole life wishing I had gone so I could have heard the people tell stories about him and cry over him and wish him back into the world. I wanted to be there for his honoring.

Was it the right thing to do? There is no right thing. There is what gets done. There is you have to keep breathing and you have to do whatever you have to do to keep breathing.

Tomorrow I fly to Santa Fe to go to Ronan’s memorial.  (There is no right! There is no right I tell you!) I will miss the funeral of my husband’s cousin which will take place here in L.A. because I will be in Santa Fe at a baby’s memorial. There is nothing right about any of this.

I just keep moving around in the dark and hoping that sooner or later I find the switch for the light.

I imagine my father’s funeral as a dream-like painting and I am inside the painting.

It’s a colorful oil-based rendition of people in various stages of grief. My feet barely touch the floor in this painting. I am eight.

There are also people outside the painting, staring in.  They mill about, champagne and cheese in hand, commenting on us there inside the surreal painting of my father’s funeral.

We are still, those of us inside the painting. As if we are waiting for something.

We are waiting for something.

Someone outside the painting takes a charcoal pencil and shades our voices a color the sound of sand. The color of mute. We go quiet.

In my next painting my father’s face will be drawn closer to mine and his arm will touch my arm. And in this one he won’t even have to die. We won’t be at a funeral anymore.

Time will be un-stuck. It will move as we move. It will flow off the canvas and into the room of voyeurs searching for something, anything to talk about.

I can do that, you know. I can make it a painting come to life like that. I can create it over and over with brushstrokes and anecdotes because I wasn’t there and I will never have been there and there is no one that can say That was the right thing to do or That was the wrong thing to do.

There is no such thing.

There is no right.

There is only go and breathe and love and get up in the morning and take the next breath and the next and when someone tries to tell you that this or that is the right thing just look at them and keep breathing. Keep going.

right-wrong

Beating Fear with a Stick, Inspiration

Listen: This Is Your LIfe.

February 24, 2013

I am about to drown. There’s a tidal wave. I am in someone’s house or apartment and the ocean is rushing through windows and walls. There’s water rising. The fear is imminent. I am about to die.

I wake up. Sometimes I am soaked from sweating in my sleep and sometimes I am upright in my bed as if I’d never even laid down to begin with a few hours prior, as if I simply sat in bed with closed eyes and let the water come charging at me. As if I said I don’t need to lie down to drown.

Sometimes I wake shivering. When you sweat in your sleep you wake up freezing. A wet dog.

Maybe the water wasn’t actually my sweat. Maybe my dreams are so powerful that they sneak through whatever dream-barrier exits and enter my body like a thief. I taste it to double check. It’s salty. Sea water? Sweat? Who’s to say?

I wake up before I die each time. I remember those old myths I would hear as a kid. You can’t die in your dreams. I don’t know. Who’s to say? I am mostly drowning in them.

The cliché gets to me. How can I have such an uninteresting clichéd recurring nightmare? I am ashamed of my mind’s lack of creativity when it comes to this.

I’ve had this dream, or a version of this dream for as long as I can remember. I’m drowning.

I don’t understand where all this water is coming from or how I can stop it from swallowing me. I don’t understand the sky or the sea or which is which in these dreams. I look up and down but there are no clues as to which is the sky and which is not. It doesn’t matter. It’s after me.

Last night, as my husband kissed me, I started to have a panic attack. Babe! I snapped, are you trying to suffocate me? My heart started beating and I felt the water rising. I was dying and he wouldn’t stop until I pushed him away. I felt horrible immediately but the drowning was real I am not sure what would have happened if I hadn’t pushed him away.

His best friend and cousin died last week, the same day as Ronan. Ronan was 2 and a half and Amir was in his fifties. Ronan had been suffering and his parents had been watching him die for 2 years. Amir was driving a tow truck and had had a heart attack. He died before he crashed it into a parked car, his wife, in St. Louis, sat waiting for him to text him back.

I wasn’t there for my husband (or for Ronan’s mother Emily Rapp) as I was leading my retreat in Maui but I know it was incredibly hard for him. The wife flew out and wailed in his arms as he drove them around the city and to the coroner’s office and to eat Persian sandwiches in Westwood.

So last night, when he was kissing me, I got that he was expressing his relief that I was still a person in the world. That I had not gone and he would prove it by smothering me. I felt bad for saying that to him and he said Well, I was smothering you a bit.

He was.

The thing is, I always have a problem with kissing. I used to think it was an intimacy thing but it’s not. I don’t know what I believe in when it comes to past lives but I feel like I can’t breathe when someone’s mouth is on mine. I am dying. Water is rushing at me and I am falling into a pillow or there is a pillow on my face and finally Oh My God! I can’t breathe!

Don’t read into it too much. I wasn’t sexually abused or anything like that. I have to be kissed in just the right most perfect way so that I don’t feel like I am drowning.

Hugging makes me feel safe and kissing makes me feel like dying most of the time.

I woke up feeling so guilty this morning. Apologizing over coffee. Hugging my husband. Kissing his face. My husband understands me and hopefully didn’t take it personally but it was a pure unadulterated panic attack last night. The sea water was in my throat. My lungs collapsed. I was gone.

Why do we take on so much all the time? So many things that don’t belong to us. So many oceans.

That ocean rushing at me business, that’s my life. I think it’s going to eat me sometimes. Or sometimes I think I am trying to swallow it all at once and you absolutely cannot do that. It’s too much. You have to pause and breathe.

And breathe.

And breathe.

So maybe there is no past life drowning and no claustrophobia. Maybe there is just I am not breathing because if I breathe this will all go away or if I breathe this will all come so fast and I won’t be able to control it.

You cannot control the ocean.

I save myself in my tidal waves dream but oftentimes I can’t save my sister or my mom. My dad is never in them. I don’t know if it means I have forgotten him or that he doesn’t need saving. Regardless, he is absent. I save myself but I cannot save my family from the ocean.

You cannot control the ocean or the life or the family.

You cannot save anyone.

I shoot up in my bed and feel my arms and they are there and my husband’s body and he is awake because I am awake. I’ve had a nightmare. Everyone is drowning. I can’t save anyone.

The magic words: I love you. You are not drowning. You are safe. Do not worry about anything. You are safe he says.

Yesterday I sent out a newsletter which wasn’t really a newsletter but rather my essay I had written on the plane Friday night called What Will Never Go Up In Smoke. It went viral on Facebook and I thought I would share with my mailing list. I got some heartfelt and beautiful responses. One woman said that my writing always made her want to do better. (Wow!) Then, I got an email from someone in the spiritual community that simply said one word. Unsubscribe. (Wow!)

And there it is. I am about to drown. There’s a tidal wave. I am in someone’s house or apartment and the ocean is rushing through windows and walls. There’s water rising. The fear is imminent. I am about to die. I can’t wake up because I am awake.

I am awake.

I breathe. I breathe and after a while the fear is gone. The hurt is there but the fear is gone. It didn’t kill me, that one little word. It felt mean and hurtful but I didn’t die. I sat staring at my phone feeling embarrassed but I didn’t die. I pinched myself a little and it was as it always was: I was human. I was still there on my bed, my messy blankets and pillows and books and I was still human. I hadn’t been turned to stone by that word nor had it suffocated me.

The fear must have gotten trapped in my body as it was looking for a way out. Last night when my husband was kissing me and I felt like I was drowning, it was because the fear had nowhere to go.

My body was afraid it would always know that fear.

But then he is saying You are safe.

And I was. I was in my bed, safe. And the word unsubscribe was just a word and the ocean was 9 blocks away and anyone I love has to save themselves and fear is a goddamned bastard.

The imminent fear. Of drowning. Of people not surviving. Of what others think. Of breathing. Of living. Of dying. It’s everywhere, really. If you look.

It’s as big as the ocean and beyond and it will get you if you stop paying attention.

Listen: that is your breath. Listen: that is my breath. Listen: that is the wind.

Listen. This is your life.

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Little Seal, loss, love, poetry

The Art of Losing.

February 12, 2013

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Jen Pastiloff.

 The art of losing isn’t hard to master;

so many things seem filled with the intent

to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster

of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.

The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:

places, and names, and where it was you meant 

to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

 ~Elizabeth Bishop from One Art

I read this poem in my yoga class tonight. It’s been calling me so I went and picked it up.

So many things lost. My friend’s baby is dying and tonight when I asked her what I could do for her she simply said curse the fucking world that would do this to a baby.

I have.

Oh, have you seen it? I have slipped. I have lost my yoga-teachery-ness, my belief in you attract every single thing in your life somewhere between Ronan’s deadly diagnosis and my nephew’s rare genetic disorder. Something has been lost.

Ronan is now on medication through a tube taped to his face, but no fluids. He will die most likely in 3-8 days, and so yes, I am cursing the world and I will spare you the photos of him because, most likely, you will curse the world too. The fucking world that would do this to a baby.

When things like this happen (as if they can be categorized as things like this) we lose the piece of ourselves that speaks in platitudes, that says everything happens for a reason. Because really it doesn’t.

The art of losing isn’t hard to master. Oh Elizabeth Bishop. So wise. 

I’ve mastered it. After Emily loses her son Ronan she will have mastered it. (Hell, she’s a master already.) There are a lot of us masters out here in the world. 

We are a tribe of masters.

I think of my grandfather alone in his old row house in South Philadelphia. The same house my mom and aunts were raised in and the same house he has lived in for 65 years when he wasn’t off in another country. It’s dark and now referred to as the “ghetto” but after my grandmother died a year and a half ago, my mother went there and cleaned it up. She painted and cleaned and hung photos and dusted and took plastic off sofas. It looked nice.

My grandfather spent most of his life in the navy. He loves to talk about it. He has books, yearbooks they remind me of, and he sits down next to his guitar and shows me them. He points to faces and maps.

The first time I went to LA, was on a Greyhound bus in 1942 when we all moved to Hayward, California. That was a long crowded trip from Effingham, Illinois to LA then up to Hayward.

I lived there till I joined the navy in 1943. Worked at Hunts cannery and a place called Gillig Bus Company. They made busses out of truck chassis. I also worked 5 nights and Saturday and Sunday at a skating rink….I was the floor manager and was a really good roller skater then.

We used to cash our paychecks and they would give most of it in real silver dollars then, they would be worth a lot of money now. And when I was stationed in Pearl Harbor  in Hawaii in 1944 we used to get paid with 2 dollar bills with H A W A I I printed across them. That was to show the complaining civilians how much money the military contributed to their economy. It seemed to work.

Do you have any of those?  I interrupt him. 

(I used to have some myself, Pop but I’ve lost them. I used to have loads of silver dollars and $2 dollar bills. I don’t have any now.)

That was when Hawaii was only one of the territories. I was only making about $50 or $60 per month then, so it wasn’t very practical to save the $2 bills. 2 or 3 bucks would pay for a night in Honolulu and sandwich before going back to the tent city in a mosquito infested cane field where we lived. Some fond memories. The mosquitos there were at least as big as humming birds and sounded like model airplanes in flight. I remember one night that 2 mosquitos landed on my bunk and one said “shall we eat him here or take him back with”  the other said “no, we better eat him here because if we take him back, the big ones might take him away from us.”

(Oh Pop, you’re making that up.)

So many things lost, so many memories, so many $2 dollar bills and silver dollars.

I wonder if I can find all the things I have lost. Do they come back or is that it? Just like that, gone.

The answer: gone.

I hope I didn’t make you want to stop reading, but it’s true. My grandmother died and she is lost to my grandfather although I am sure when he fell in the bathtub last month he called out for her. He was alone and sat there naked on the floor of the tub for hours, his head bleeding before he somehow reached the phone and dialed 9-1-1.

But, do you think he called for her?

Damn straight. And when they had to pick broken pieces of tile out of his head I am sure he called for her or at least wished for her even though she drove him crazy with her complaints and crosswords, he called for her because who else do you call for?

Why?

Habit? Yes.

Wishful thinking? Yes.

Love? Yes.

Fear? Yes.

Desperation? Yes.

It’s all I know? Yes.

All of it.

Look, when we lose things and we become masters it’s not like that means we accept it. It doesn’t mean we don’t pound our heads against the tiles and watch the blood drip down into the drain as we shiver and cry. It doesn’t mean that just because we are masters at losing that we like that or that we even know what that means.

You think Emily knows what life will be like post-Ronan? No. She doesn’t. Yet and still, she is a master.

The loss has already entered her and the silver dollars will never be recovered. The mosquitoes have made their way in and gnawed through everything.

There is nothing left but still the loss is insurmountable and unknowable and being a master means nothing.

It means you know how to bury someone or watch them die or get old or not get old but it doesn’t mean you are free. You were once a roller skater, true, but that holds no weight now at this moment in the bathtub with your head bleeding like that.

Like Bishop said: it takes practice. Practice losing father, losing faster. To which I say: No. Enough is enough is enough. I am done losing. So many things lost. So many keys and years and people. Enough. I needn’t any more practice. We may be masters but we are not lost.

This is an art that doesn’t take years to hone. It takes a minute (maybe less), or however long it decides when it takes what it is going to take, but let me tell you this: being a master isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

I’d trade it on for the baby’s fat arms, for the silver dollars, for the father lying on the couch in his cutoffs, for the chromosone not to be missing. I’d become all woo-woo for you and yea, everything happens for a reason and you get what you deserve if you’d give the title “Master” to another. But that “another” would always be me. I see that. There is no this or that, me not you, you not me, your kid not mine, my kid not yours. The Masters is no insider exclusive club. There is no discrimination. It is all of us.

We are all the Masters.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being. Yoga + Writing + Connection. We go deep. Bring an open heart and a sense of humor- that's it! Summer or Fall 2015. It is LIFE CHANGING!

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being. Yoga + Writing + Connection. We go deep. Bring an open heart and a sense of humor- that’s it! Summer or Fall 2015. It is LIFE CHANGING!

 

 

 
 
courage, Things I Have Lost Along The Way

Roar.

January 18, 2013

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black

By Jen Pastiloff.

Lie to me. 

That’s what I might have well have said by saying I don’t look like I gained any weight, right? It’s going to be okay, isn’t it? You are not having sex with anyone else, right? 

Tell me what I think I want to hear.

Some people like it straight. They want to be told what is. They want what is and what can be without any embellishments or I will make you feel betters. State the facts, please.

Not me.

I want to be appeased. Make me believe I am safe.

Recently, I decided that the truth is a much better version of the truth than a lie.

In my late twenties I had this boyfriend, the one who wouldn’t let himself be called “boyfriend”. I loved this not-boyfriend boyfriend . I went on the birth control pill for this not-boyfriend boyfriend. We’d been together a year, albeit a year where I was unsure of my standing with him beyond the fact that I knew I loved him and that he made me feel like I was crazy. Birth control pills meant no more condoms and that made the not-boyfriend boyfriend happy.

The first thing I remember about the garbage bag incident that red wrapper invading me with its plastic face. Everywhere I looked: red. His carpet, red, the inside of my eyelids, red. The (unfortunately for him) clear plastic trash bag had fallen over. Inside, grays and whites of innocent I will not hurt you trash, and then there it was: a Lifestyles condom stuck to a chicken take-out container. Nothing but the torn red of the wrapper visible through the clear plastic trash bag.

Of course I will take out the garbage on my way out.

The significance of images, powerful enough to place two people right there inside my mind, naked on a bed. Maybe they’re in a dark room, the blue glow of the television bobbing on the wall. The woman with him (not me), imagined as perfect and leggy.

And then there he was on top of me. All I could see were red Lifestyle wrappers like sheep jumping fences. Rows of them. One condom, two condom, three…

 

(Wow, all that work you’re doing, for nothing! All that huffing and grunting

and straining and pushing and pulling and I am not even here with you. I am an eyeball in a trash bag searching for clues of infidelity.) 

 I am lying to you. I am not here. Only my body is.

But as long as you have my body here, does it matter that you don’t have my mind too? 

I wondered how many women lied in this way? Making love to someone with their body

while their mind drifts I’m fat, who else is he having sex with, what can I eat for dinner? I wonder what time the movie starts, do I even love this guy? I wish he would hurry up, why would he want to have sex with anyone but me? Why don’t I satisfy him, Am I not enough? I’m not good enough for him, what’s wrong with me? I’m fat. Shit, I never called my mother back. I have to remember to pay the electric bill., Damn it, is he done yet? I am good enough for him, he’s not good enough for me….. No, not like that, like this!  I can’t even say that to him because he will get offended. Maybe I should try being with a woman. No, I couldn’t do that. He is such a selfish lover. I wonder what time it is, I wonder if I could fit into those jeans? Did I shut the stove? What day is it? Do I smell bad? I wonder if he thinks I smell bad? He smells kind of musty. It’s so gross when a guy smells bad. Is he done yet? Man, what is he doing? Does he think he is King Kong? Why does he play so many video games still? What? Is he five? I’m tired, Ouch, that hurts, what is he doing? I wonder if they have a class for men to become better lovers at The Learning Annexx?

His eyes, red burning slits. All I could see was that condom wrapper. Obsessed by a red remnant that was most certainly not my remnant, I couldn’t move. I was that paralyzed with not wanting to know the truth. You love me, right? You love me, right? Right? You love me?

My mind can be made to believe anything.

I’d known this all my life but the trash bag incident finalized it for me. Everywhere I looked I waited to be convinced of  I love yous and You’re safes and nothing bad will happens and I am not going anywheres.

My face in his pillow (do I smell another woman? Whose hair is that lying there?) The red wrapper actually turned into a body and that body turned into his body and his body in someone else’s body. Metamorphosis. Isn’t this, the chain of events, absolutely astounding?

How quickly the mind latches on to what it wants to believe is the truth. How little it takes to seal the deal.

You love me, right?

This logical procession of things is survival of the fittest. Except the fittest know how to survive, they know how to dispose of any evidence instead of asking me to pick it up with my own two small trembling fists. The fittest aren’t as stupid as you I thought as I waited to be convinced that the condom wasn’t his, that he didn’t know how it got there, that he swore it, that he loved me and was sorry.

I used to think reality was relative and irrelevant. Tell me what I want to hear. Tell me it wasn’t yours. Make me believe. 

Mine, and perhaps yours too, is a mind that filters everything through a vicious process of hypothetical situations, of beautifully formed sentences, of what ifs. Images left in a room of the brain to ferment will create an alternate universe where no matter what time it was with my not-boyfriend the time in my head was a red red world where he was having sex with someone other than me.

You love me, right? It wasn’t yours, right?

That really was the end of the not-relationship although it probably ended before that if I don’t lie to you. Of course he convinced me that it hadn’t been his condom. That it had been old or that it was his cousin’s and I’d nodded and said okay and shook from the I’m going be sick adrenaline in my body but I’d stayed. And I stayed. 

And for as much as I wanted him to lie to me to make me feel better in the moment, I’d known the truth all along. 

We always know the truth.

If he hadn’t lied, if he’d just said Yes, yes it’s mine and I am sleeping with someone else. Or, aren’t you at least glad I am using protection? I would have had to leave him. The lies gave me permission to stay. They gave me permission to hate myself more. The lies got me off the hook.

I am writing this from an airplane where I get some of my best (read: distraction free) writing done. I just ran into a man on the plane, who, along with his wife, sent me to Atlanta 6 years ago to visit my nephew when he was newborn and in the NICU. There were complications and he was having his little tiny blonde head scanned. He couldn’t eat. He was floppy. I didn’t even know what a floppy baby was back then. He might not survive were words nobody wanted to speak. They’d been my regulars at the restaurant where I’d worked for years. As I walked away with tears streaming down my face to get their Arnold Palmers they’d decided they would send me to Atlanta the next day. You have to be with your family. No discussion will be had. I simply had to say yes, they’d said over turkey sandwiches. And so I did.

Six years ago I went and held my sweet floppy buddy for the first time, once he was released from the hospital in Georgia.

 When I walked onto the plane this morning, the husband was on the flight, because you know, the world is really quite small like that. It’s so small that people who did for you the kindest things will pop up on airplanes Houston. He’d tried to jog my memory as if it needed jogging. As if I could ever forget them and what they did for me when I was a destitute waitress with a sick nephew. He kindly asked So, everything turned out okay then? With your nephew?

The lies. The lies when he was born and until he was two years old, when he finally got diagnosed with Prader Willi Syndrome and Autism. The subtle lies. The bold faced ones. To ourselves mainly. He is just taking his time. All babies develop differently. He’s fine. 

 When of course we knew. But how much safer it felt to be nestled inside a world where there is nothing wrong then thrown out into the wolves and the world of missing chromosomes. The wolves would eat us. Let’s stay safe. The baby’s fine. There is nothing wrong. He is healthy. Swimming with sharks was safer than telling the lies, but what did we know? We were scared, and I, for one, was used to lying to myself. It was not a foreign country. It was home.

I’d said to the kind husband It did turn out there was something. He has a rare genetic disorder. That is actually where I am going now. It’s hard, but he’s doing great. I will never forget what you and your wife did for me back then. I think of you all the time.

We hugged and took a photo together and I thought about how many people have done kind things for me along the way and how many untruths I have told myself about not deserving them.

Watching my friend Emily Rapp deal with the impending death of her baby boy I see how liberating the truth really is.

She could flail her arms and curse God and fate and Tay Sachs. She could tell lies about herself and her luck and what is in store for her (she might do this on occasion, she is a human being, after all) but the truth is what seems to keep her tethered. Without the truth she would float away into You’ll get over its and He’s going to be in a better place and everything happens for a reason. 

The truth of what is happening now and now and now. 

That is all there is.

She, nor any of us, knows what is going to happen beyond his death and that is the truest true. What keeps her writing and breathing are the sure facts of what is true now and now and now. In the moments her son has a tube in his nose for medication and some fluids. In the moments he sleeps and in the moments he is choking and in the moments she sits down to write when maybe all she wants to do is beat her fist at the sky and scream but she writes anyway.

If you face what is so, you will be the roar that wakes up the sun. You will be the day and the night and then the day again because it is the one thing no one can take away from you. The truth of what is will make you the strongest mountain lion. 

The truth will set you free some say. The truth hurts.

I don’t know, I think lies will set you free too. They will unglue you so much that you will have no idea who you are anymore as you float above everyone else with your own set of facts and knowledge. The lies hurt more than the truth but in that slow and painful death kind of way. 

The truth hurts too, at times. But, it’s what keeps you knowing this one very important fact: who you are. The fact of who you are in the world.

The truth was that I was a girl who didn’t love herself enough to leave someone who hurt her again and again. The lie was that it was all I deserved. The truth was that my nephew has a chromosome missing and he could possibly eat himself to death if not carefully watched and cared for. The lie was that nothing was wrong. The truth is that Emily loves her son and that yes, he will die. The lie is that anyone knows what that means for her or for him.

We think we are protecting ourselves when we lie to ourselves or when we have someone lie to us. Oh, our sweet unquiet minds, so prone to crave safety. So willing to cling to what is not real, to trade in lovers who don’t love us, missing chromosomes, death.

11 years ago my childhood friend came out to California to visit me after having hiked the Appalachian trail for 6 months by himself. I remember thinking it was the craziest thing I had ever heard, and also being slightly jealous because I knew I didn’t have the balls to do that at the time.

I might have the balls now.

I am the mountain lion.

I have finally been able to turn on the light and invite it in. The Truth, shivering and lonely. And unafraid. 

My friend had told me he’d started with a huge backpack and that by the end it was almost empty. All the weight he’d shed during the hike. He said he’d gone to find himself and I remember thinking at the time that I didn’t know any guys that talked like that. Find himself? Find the truth?

I asked him how he’d managed though, at the end, with almost nothing in his pack? Didn’t he need stuff?

Nothing is lost when you dump the untruths. It’s the letting go, the starting out with so much weight and ending up with water and a sleeping bag.

The truth is your sleeping bag. It’s your water.

It’s what carries you the rest of the way from here.

It’s what says Yes, I do love you and I have been here all along. Waiting.

It’s what takes your quivering body lying there in the corner of your kitchen floor and picks it up. It’s what turns you into the strongest mountain lion.

Speak the truth. 

You know what? Fuck that.

Roar.

 

 

Join Jen Pastiloff, the founder of The Manifest-Station, in The Berkshires of Western Massachusetts in Feb of 2015 for a weekend on being human. It involves writing and some yoga. In a word: it's magical.

Join Jen Pastiloff, the founder of The Manifest-Station, in The Berkshires of Western Massachusetts in Feb of 2015 for a weekend on being human. It involves writing and some yoga. In a word: it’s magical.

 

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above!

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above!

click to order Simplereminders new book.

click to order Simplereminders new book.

Little Seal, loss, love

Dirt.

January 10, 2013

I am sharing this again because it is so dear to me. Please read this. Please send Ronan love and prayers that he is not scared when he passes. He is a the end of his little life. Love you guys. Thanks for reading this one. Please share it.

The Land Of Enchantment.

A couple days ago, we took a road trip.

Emily, Ronan, and me. Two-year-old Ronan, packed in the back, his small, floppy head propped up with stuffed animals and socks, his face reflected in a crooked, little mirror, so Emily, his mom, could look into it every so often as she drove in case he had a seizure or stopped breathing.

Tay Sachs has its hold on this little boy. This perfect little boy making cooing noises in the back seat as we marveled at trees and patterns of light and talked about what it means to be happy and how even when you are happy, you are still a little bit sad.

Or at least I am.

Our first stop after we left Santa Fe was the The Chimayo Sanctuario.

It was hot when we stepped out of the car, hotter than it has been in Santa Fe. Gusts of warm wind blowing my dress around in a way that would normally make me laugh and feel sexy and silly, but this day, I immediately felt tired and wanted to lie down in the little outdoor church area. Growing up as a Jew, at least until I was eight, I didn’t really know what to call that little area, but I knew I wanted to lay my head down on it and rest as people walked by and snapped pictures or prayed. Some smoked cigarettes, which felt somehow unholy given the heat.

Emily had told me as we walked that Chimayo was the meth capital of the world. I watched the smokers in front of us and wondered what meth felt like. I didn’t really want to know, but we were in the capital and the heat made me tired and curious.

Emily had said that she loved Chimayo and that it had holy dirt.

She had me at holy dirt.

My hearing had been especially horrendous during this trip. As if there are things here that mustn’t be heard. Things of loss and heat and dirt and dying babies. Most of the things she told me during this visit I only half-heard, so maybe when she said holy dirt, she didn’t say that at all.

But there is holy dirt here indeed!

We entered the church and sat in the back. The art on the walls somehow reminded me of my mother, so I kept whispering to Emily how my mom would love it here. It was vibrant and colorful, its beauty simple and poor-looking. I knew my mom would love the folk art like Emily did. We traced our fingers over the woodcarvings and the blue of the pregnant bellies.

There were a few old women up front praying, their mouths repeating the same shapes over and over. Although I did not know what they were saying, I knew that they were deep in reverie, deep in connection, somehow sitting on the bench and yet also floating somewhere with a dead relative or baby or Jesus himself. Who knows? They were in a trance but also somehow aware of us as we walked by, enough that they smiled with their eyes and part of their lips without stopping the flow of prayer. It was like a magic trick. I felt weird to stare yet I did.

I mean, I suppose I went in there to pray in some way, although I didn’t know it until we walked through the door.

I didn’t even know what Chimayo was until we got there. But these women were praying with every ounce of their bodies, like they were born to do this and had waited in a long line of life events that included births and deaths to get here. I was just hoping Ronan wouldn’t suffer and that Emily would be okay. I didn’t even have a real prayer. I just quietly looked over at them and then to the front of the jaw-dropping gorgeous New Mexican church and sent a wish out to the Jesus statue in whatever language I could muster.

I think I put my hands together in prayer, like I do when I teach yoga, and asked him in sign language “Please let Ronan feel nothing. Please let Emily feel something.” 

We went to the room where the holy dirt was, and it clearly said No Pictures, but, naturally, being me, I took a few. I am like a thief when it comes to inspiration. Whether words or images, if I see it and it touches that place where things are born, I must capture it.

I took some photos and then Emily went in and scooped up some holy dirt and put it on Ronan’s sweaty head and his little feet where she had painted his toenails a gold, glittery color. I went in and did the same. I also took a little baggy of it for my sister or anyone else who needed holy dirt. Who knows, maybe I needed it?

We went into the Vigil Shop where they sold popsicles and chile and souvenirs. (They even ship chile! The sign out front boasted.)

We agreed, as we stood under a tree for a moment of relief from the sun, that the land felt different here.

I felt much like I do in Ojai, California, where I lead many of my yoga retreats. More connected to the land, more inspired and awake, like there was a current running through me that had been asleep but, upon stepping in holy dirt, was reignited. Like I became a person again after a long time of forgetting how to be.

Chimayo felt sacred in the way that The Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris did in July, when I went to see where Jim Morrison was buried, not because I wanted to, but because I was dragged. I went with my childhood babysitter, with whom I had been reunited after her only son, age nineteen, was killed in a drunk driving accident last August. It was her greatest wish to see Jim Morrison’s grave. I was annoyed at having to go, especially because it was half-raining, I was sick, and we got lost, but once we got there, it was like nothing else. All the tombs like little houses, each different from the next in the most beautiful ways. I wanted to lie down on them and see what it felt like—not in morbid way, but rather to be connected to such beauty. Rarely have I seen such beauty associated with death.

I felt like that in Chimayo—far from Paris, Jim Morrison’s grave, and Ojai but with the vast knowledge that the holy dirt was the same. If I tasted it in Paris or California, or if I knelt down in that little room in Chimayo, it would all taste the same. I would be healed or I wouldn’t, but it would be the same. I wasn’t really far from beauty wherever I was in the world at any given moment.

We carried on to Taos, and I remembered the first time I had been there.

I drove across the country with my mother, sister, and best friend at the time. I remember eating tuna fish from a can in the back seat and alternating drivers. I remember the colors in New Mexico being so different from what I knew growing up in New Jersey and California. In Taos, I had a flood of memories, which is good because I am writing a book, but I had to shake them off to be present for Ronan. What if this is the last time I see him? 

Emily says maybe it will be, or maybe not. No expectations is what she is working on. No expectations of what his death will be like, whether or not she should travel to Germany for a week in October (because it could as easily happen while she is teaching or at the store). No expectations of what life will be like after.

As we sat in the chapel, Emily told me of the pilgrimage people make to come to Chimayo, the last mile or two on their hands and knees so they arrive bloody to the church for their penance. I was in disbelief that people still did this sort of thing but also in awe at the sheer will and belief in what is possible, in miracles and magic and holy dirt.

There were children’s shoes and booties everywhere, left as offerings, which made me feel sad as I sat there with Ronan because he would never wear shoes to walk or run or to look cool for a girl on a first date.

He would never walk or crawl on his hands and knees to make a pilgrimage.

That’s when I decided that I would make one for him. That actually that is what we were doing out there in the hot New Mexican sun as we walked on bridges and stood in churches and sat in cars.

Here we were, eating holy dirt and driving through The Rio Grande Gorge as we listened to bad music. We sang out loud, and it was all for him. It was all so we could keep giving him these particular pieces of ourselves, these grains of holy dirt, to take with him wherever it was he was going.

~~~

Please order Emily Rapp’s book. It will be out in March. I just finished it and WOW. Click here.

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