Browsing Tag

forgiveness

Forgiveness, Guest Posts, Sexual Assault/Rape

On Forgiveness

June 27, 2015
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beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88Sensitive material: Mention of rape/sexual assault

By Kari Cowell

What is forgiveness? The Oxford English Dictionary defines “forgive” as “[to] stop feeling angry or resentful toward (someone) for an offense, flaw, or mistake.” Spiritual gurus and psychologists recommend finding compassion for those who have wronged us and letting go of any anger or resentment we harbor toward that individual lest it eat us up inside.

But are there instances where it’s okay not to forgive?

Yesterday, the group intention in yoga class was forgiveness. The instructor said, “Think of someone who challenged you. Think of someone who you need to forgive and dedicate your practice to them.” I was raped the summer of 2011, and I chose my rapist. Logically knowing that forgiveness will heal whatever is left in my body of the incident, I’ve been working for the past year on forgiving this person. And it’s damn difficult.

My rapist was a healer. He was a Reiki practitioner and massage therapist. I was visiting and we went to dinner and talked about healing. I told him I never had a Reiki session and could really use a massage and asked if we could set up a session before I left town. He offered a session after dinner and gave me a choice:  If we had the session on his bed, he wouldn’t charge me because he was feeling too lazy to take out his table. I had known this guy for years, so I didn’t think anything of it and agreed. He raped me during the session. At the time, I was working on being assertive instead of aggressive, and still hadn’t quite figured out how to verbally express what I wanted without sounding bitchy. Upon reflection, I now know there are times when it’s okay to sound bitchy. But my body language was a clear no. I repeatedly moved his hand away from my lady parts, but he kept returning. It took me doing that 3 times before he finally stopped.

Continue Reading…

Abuse, Guest Posts, healing

An Open Letter To The Rapist Who Claimed My Virginity

June 21, 2015
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beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88Sensitive material: contains mention of rape and sexual assault.

By Kalee Prue

Dear Brian,

I typed your name into the Facebook search box tonight on a whim. I had done it before one other time, years ago. I vaguely remember seeing your blurred smiling face in a baseball cap, and the feeling of disgust that suddenly welled up in the pit of my stomach, I had to click away. This time was different though, perhaps I have grown softer over the years since then and now… and I have surely grown softer in the years since you stole my innocence in the house that “Merch” built. This time instead of just your smiling face that made me want to punch the SCREEN until it shattered into a million pieces, there was two small, beautiful, golden haired, smiles in pink dresses on each side of your dimples… And your smile… was so happy… so radiant with joy sitting there between those two tiny angels, that instead of disgust… instead of rage… the only thing that welled up in me was an overwhelming feeling of joy in my throat for you… and in that instant… just like that, forgiveness happened.

Fifteen years ago you wanted to pretend that next morning that nothing had happened, and I went right along with you out of shame. I made believe while working and selling right along side of you for weeks afterward that nothing had happened. To the few I told, I made believe that we had made love. That I had finally been “made love” to. You pretended nothing had happened to everyone, after all, you were my team-leader and dating each other was inappropriate, as you had been telling me after every time we had kissed up until that point. Of course the same was true after we… well, after YOU had sex with me… but then you moved on very quickly from encouraging my puppy-love crush in the moments we stole off alone together, to dating another girl who was part of your sales “team”. I’m sure I could write pages on what that did to my self esteem, but I won’t… I want to focus on the rape itself. Because YES, Brian, what you did was rape, though it took me years to call it by name. Continue Reading…

Forgiveness, Guest Posts, healing

The Hardest Word To Say To Myself

May 20, 2015
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beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Sara Saldez
This morning I woke up, a few times (as been the situation for a while now) until I finally pulled myself out of bed at 7am. This is the latest I can leave my bed if I want to shower, and attempt to look decent for a day of work AND get to work on time.

I have been struggling with sleep for the last few weeks. Nightmares, dreams in constant fast forward motion, and actual panic/anxiety attacks in my sleep. Today it took its toll on me at work. I was attempting to engage in my daily duties during my down time, when I felt ill. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what I was feeling, but I know it was a combination of feeling light-headed, queasy and not all, together.

On the drive to work, I was having a mental battle with myself over accepting that I have depression in its real form (and not just in feeling low and mis-diagnosed), and between wanting to feel a sense of “normal”, whatever form that may be this week.

I have always known things were harder for me. Situations that I saw other people getting themselves into and out of with relative ease, put me in a horribly crippling position. I couldn’t understand why things to seemed to be easier for some people and not for me. But life and things got in the way of me getting a real diagnosis and some real help, until May 20th last year.

For those who know me, they know the significance of this date, and for those of you who don’t, my mother passed away on May 20th, back in 2004. And last year when I was house-sitting in Sydney and experiencing major panic attacks and anxiety attacks, my gorgeous supportive friend decided it was time to see someone for real about what was happening.

So that date I received my diagnosis, and I accepted it. I also graciously accepted the help that followed. Fast forward to almost ten months later, and I am still receiving the help I need, but am again at war with my mind. You see, I am struggling with forgiveness. That seems to be the hardest word for me in this present time of my life.

I just secured a full time teaching job, after over 15 months of no secure lengthy contracts (read; unemployment), I just joined the gym again (after more than two years away from any gym, although I had yet to go to a class/workout), and things were finally falling into place and looking on the rise. So why the battle with forgiveness? I am not sure. But that battle continued tonight, on the mat.

I have been feeling the pull to yoga for a long time now, and I have purchased books, attempted my own flows both on land and in the pool, but I had yet to go to a class, to experience yoga in a place, that in my mind, filled me with dread.

I know I look nothing like the others in the class, but I went anyway. I never used to wear singlets to the gym, and therefore endured more heat and restriction than I should have, and tonight I came out of the dressing room in a bright pink singlet. NO SLEEVES. And I took myself to the mat, and attempted my first class. As we were lying there, coming into our breath, the instructor asked us to set our intention for the class. She mentioned words like love, happiness, abundance etc, but it was the word forgiveness that hit me like a bullet to my head and heart simultaneously.

I started to tear up. I knew this lesson/session was going to be about forgiveness. And boy, I wasn’t wrong. As I fumbled and attempted my way through the next 60 minutes of poses and stretches and breathing, tears streamed from my face not once but over four times. Each time I tried to do a pose that I struggled in – I heard forgiveness, and cried. For previously, I have never been kind to myself. I am the first to be super harsh and tear myself down. To others, I have pearls of wisdom and compassion and kindness in spades, to myself, hatred, fear, rejection and lack of compassion and forgiveness. I would be the first to pick apart all the parts of myself that weren’t so easy to like. I had been working on loving the parts of me that were easy to like. But somehow, the other stuff was just too hard. Being heavy is hard. Being unkind to myself is hard. I was tearing myself down. This wasn’t anyway to treat myself. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Video, Vulnerability

Hate.

April 7, 2015
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By Jen Pastiloff

So, I am going to start posting more of my (totally high-production level) videos here since they are spreading like wildfire on the interwebs and my Facebook page. I take requests too! Any topic you want tackled? I have fun with these, I try and laugh at myself, I don’t take myself too seriously and I do my best to tell the truth and to tell it like it is. I do my best to not be an asshole. Sometimes, I am. Naturally.

Anyway, today’s is based on request. I blended three requests together because, well, I can. This one seemed to touch a lot of my Facebook tribe so I hope it resonates with you, as well. Walking around with hate in our hearts is so damn exhausting, if nothing else. Watch the videos and leave your comments below.

These are totally off-the-cuff, impromptu, in my living room. I push all my shit out the way so you can’t see my mess. Tricky, huh?

Love, Jen Continue Reading…

Binders, Forgiveness, Guest Posts

The Ghost of You

March 24, 2015
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beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Piper Selden

“Now I know what a ghost is. Unfinished business, that’s what.”  ― Salman Rushdie

Serenity House, Room 114. Hidden on a hillside among Santa Barbara’s majestic coastal oaks. The slick ad reads like a vacation destination. It is not. Serenity House is a hospice facility, a place people go when they can no longer live at home. It’s a place people go to die.

 

In my mind’s eye, the door to Room 114 is closed because I wasn’t there when you died, when they blessed your body and anointed it with oils. When the ghost of you didn’t haunt me.

In my deepest dream-space, you are still alive in that room. Heart pounding, I know my biggest fear is beyond the heavy oak door, and I must enter alone. I press the cold metal handle and walk inside.

You are there, propped in bed and shirtless, not dressed in a jewel-toned silk shirt, like the ones you used to wear. I place blessed salt on your chest. You, for purifying, salt of the earth, my father. And me, for salting the dark field of my childhood. I don’t want to go back. I can’t.

Enough salt, enough tears. We’re free to love and forgive now in new spirit bodies. Continue Reading…

death, Forgiveness, Guest Posts

Steele Grey, Part II

March 21, 2015
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beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Julia Cassels.

Read Part I here.

My brother and I retreat through the vestibule of the funeral home. I pick my way through four inches of uncleared snow in the parking lot, navigating in my oh-so-appropriate black stiletto knee-high boots, and climb back into the cab of his pick-up.  I slam the door as he starts the engine, and reach for the pack of cigarettes we had bought for the occasion on the dash. “Where’s the fucking lighter?” Jeff fishes through his coat pocket, pulls out an AC/DC lighter, and passes it over as the heater in the truck comes to life.

“Where to?”

“Lager’s.  Now.” A divey bar with peanut shells on the floor, orange vinyl booths, and wagon-wheel light fixtures. A decor mode not uncommon in that part of the world. Perfectly appropriate to a day such as this.

Rap, rap, rap.

There is a man at the window of the pick up. He is wedged between the window and the side mirrors which extend far out in this monster of a truck.

I look to Jeff. “Oh shit. Are you kidding me?” I hit the automatic button to roll down the window, against my better judgment, although ignoring him and leaving the parking lot would have resulted in taking this poor guy out with the side mirrors.

“You must be Julie. We didn’t get a chance to speak. I’m Pastor Dave.” He is breathless, partially from the four degree weather and his lack of a coat, and partially from the chase he just gave us out of my father’s viewing.

“Yes?”

“Are you coming to the memorial service?”

“Um. I don’t think so, no.”

“Can we talk for a moment?”

“I don’t believe there is anything to talk about.”

“And you are?” He leans further into my window. I move the cigarette to my left hand, trying to keep the smoke out of his face, and let it burn.

“I’m Jeff. That asshole in there was my step-father.” Continue Reading…

Forgiveness, Guest Posts, Relationships

To the Woman Who Wants to Forgive Her Cheating Partner.

March 11, 2015
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beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Erica Garza.

To the Woman Who Wants to Forgive Her Cheating Partner,

I’m not here to reiterate what 95% of the internet, women’s magazines or your girlfriends are likely to tell you. And I’m not here to place blame on any entity: the cheater, the other woman, patriarchy, the media, God.

I’m here to welcome you to this experience.

This might seem strange, but hear me out. What has just happened to you is undoubtedly awful. You’re feeling things no person should ever have to feel in this life, although many of us do. Regret, anger, blame, resentment, self-pity, maybe even self-hatred. Please note that these feelings are normal. Don’t shut them out. Don’t drown them in too many glasses of wine. And don’t let them dictate your next action. Just witness them. Feel them. After all, they’ll be gone soon. I promise you that.

I’d rather focus on something else. Because the fact that you are even considering “forgiveness” as an option means something extraordinary. And the world needs to celebrate the extraordinary much more than it glorifies the wicked and the vengeful.

Considering forgiveness means you have entered a new era in your life. I’m not talking “era” in the way people sometimes refer to adolescence as the era of innocence or the twenties as the era of recklessness. This era has nothing to do with your age. But it has everything to do with your humanity.

Continue Reading…

Addiction, Forgiveness, Guest Posts, healing

I’m A Misfit.

December 28, 2014
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beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Treva Draper-Imler.

I am not pretty. I am damn funny, silly and a bit quirky. Those things make me too cute, as my friends would say. I tried being pretty, but the cost was my soul. I’m fine, really fine, where I am.

My Dad, Paul Draper, is handsome. He is a classic “Steve McQueen” type. He has a sculpted chin, dark hair and green eyes. My brother David is handsome. He was a model in college. The fact that my brother was a model probably added 5 years onto the time I will spend in therapy. My mom is pretty, She has red hair and sky blue eyes. Her skin is so china bisque fair, dotted with a freckle or two. misfit

My earliest memory of my father is him beating me till I urinated on myself. I was four, and he caught me chewing on a doll’s foot. I was in my Pj’s. He struck me until the floor was soaked in urine. He then made me mop my urine up. Continue Reading…

Abuse, courage, Guest Posts, healing

Me Too.

December 23, 2014
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beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Lizz Schumer.

There are some things the body never forgets. The sound of my cell phone splintering against the dorm room wall. How my feet felt cool against the cinderblocks moments before it hit, that breaking I felt in my own chest because I thought I could save myself from him.

Those cinderblocks are never clean in my memory. A handprint in blood smears across three, after we wake up the night after carnage, I mean carnal, relations and my body is fetal away from him, oceans of space between two bodies in a dorm size bed.

“Good morning beautiful,” and he smiled that lazy grin I’d get lost in.

If I don’t look in his eyes, I won’t be ensnared.

Valentine’s Day. He sent me a black and white photograph of a heart-shaped ring of stones. “I took this for you,” he said. Only later, I found out it was part of a class project and this was the photographic outtake, the shot with no clear blacks or whites, uneven borders, textbook darkroom failure.

My own photography class taught me what my heart didn’t want to see: Nothing was ever for me.

“You’re sick,” he screamed, moments before my phone hit the wall. “You’re a sick, fucked up slut and I don’t know why I even date you.”

If the tears coursing down my cheeks made sounds, they’d be wimpers, not screams.

I hadn’t found my voice for him. My neck still remembers his hands around my throat, warm where his fingers hit veins. I pulsed for him, in ways my body remembers every time a new man touches me there.

Touches me anywhere. The body remembers what the mind works hard to forget.

Continue Reading…

Forgiveness, Guest Posts, Pregnancy, The Hard Stuff

How to Get Through It.

December 4, 2014
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By Jillian M. Phillips.

Step One

Two days after Christmas, realize your period is late. Triple-check the calendar, just to be sure. Ask a friend to drive you to the Planned Parenthood. When you get there, keep your head down, hoping no one you know sees you. You don’t want to explain that you’re neurotic about your flow and too poor to buy an eight-dollar pregnancy test.

When the doctor comes in and confirms that you’re pregnant, hide your smile. Try to appear appropriately distressed because you’re not married. Nod along to everything she says. Pretend that you are interested in “Options.” Accept every pamphlet gratefully and solemnly, as if each one contains a sacred promise.

When your friend drives you home, share the news with her. Allow her to see your joy, but don’t tell anyone else. You know how hard your life has been lately. Your rent is way overdue. You’ve received two disconnection notices from the power company. You don’t want people telling you that your baby is a mistake. You don’t want it to be a problem people tell you to fix. Rationalize that you have eight more months to be in a better apartment in a better neighborhood. Your boyfriend, X, has a new job. If you watch your budget carefully, you can save enough to get a nicer place.

 

Step Two

Write in your journal about how excited you are. You know this baby will be a boy. Name him Caleb. Picture him with black hair and gray-blue eyes. See him in your mind as a voracious reader with a contemplative nature. He will be a poet. He will have a strong will. He will speak softly, but firmly, and use literary quotes in everyday conversation.

Decide that you are unwilling to allow X any say in this pregnancy, because he will tell you to get rid of it. He’ll tell you that you are financially unstable, barely able to take care of yourself, not ready. Write in your journal that you will wait until your second trimester, when you can’t legally terminate the pregnancy. It’s only two months away. You can keep your mouth shut for that long.

 

Step Three

Call yourself an idiot for leaving your journal open on the kitchen table while you were cooking dinner. Curse your stupidity at not putting it away in your nightstand, where it belonged, instead of letting X find it. Now he knows you’re pregnant. He tells you exactly what you thought he would, and is even angrier because he knows you were planning to lie to him.

X tells you to “do what’s right.” He reminds you that you have always been Pro- Choice. Curse yourself again for not having strong enough faith in your religion to hide behind. You have no argument other than that you’ve already come up with a name. The moment you rolled the syllables around in your mouth and felt them on your tongue, pregnancy ceased to be an abstract concept. Caleb is no longer a scientific term— embryo, zygote—he’s a person to you.

Listen to X’s argument. Let him pace around the living room as he rants on and on that you can barely put food in your own mouths, let alone a child’s. In a self-satisfied, fuck-you tone of voice, tell him that you are planning to breastfeed, which negates his argument. Casually add that he was the one who didn’t put on a condom. This is his fault as much as yours. He ignores this. You always forget to take your pill on time. One simple thing and you can’t even do that. Mutter something about subconscious intentions.

Continue Reading…

Forgiveness, Guest Posts, healing, Inspiration

e-Stranged.

August 27, 2014
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By Amy Ferris.

I’m just letting you know straight up that this is not about my family.

It’s not. Been there, wrote that.

Besides, I don’t want to write about all that crap, that ugliness, all that god- awful sadness that went down. I mean, why write about that when I can write about, oh, I don’t know, falling into a hole, a depression, not being able to write, for I don’t know, months and months and months now?

I could write about going into therapy, and how I went on Zoloft, and yes, felt better, much better, but still couldn’t write. But that’s boring and tedious.

Continue Reading…

And So It Is, Beating Fear with a Stick, Guest Posts, healing

All I Need to Know About Self Love I Learned from a Kindergartner.

March 26, 2014

All I Need to Know About Self Love I Learned from a Kindergartner. By Amy Roost.

Writing: It’s a numbers game. I send my editor a column knowing full well that most of the intended audience will never read it. And for those who do take the time, many won’t care and many more won’t like what I have to say.

And that’s fine because I don’t measure success by the number of people who read or like what I write. Rather I consider myself successful if what I share eases the way for just one reader.

And so it is with this hope that I share a story of abuse and recovery.


Between the ages of approximately 5 and 8, I was sexually abused by my brother nine years older than me. He told me he would kill me if I ever spoke a word of his transgressions to our parents. I believed him and followed orders until I was 16.

Our family was gathered for dinner. My brother waited in prey until the most opportune moment when he made a cruel remark about my ass being too big for my chair. It was not the first time he’d substituted verbal abuse for his previous physical abuse, but for whatever reason on this occasion I snapped and ran to my bedroom crying. My mother came to console me but it was no use. I was so hysterical that she wanted to take me to the hospital. I refused. I wailed. I screamed. And finally, I spilled the truth.

She was devastated, as any mother would be who learned that in the anguish and self-absorption of her divorce she had not protected her child. She did not question my story; she did, however, ask me to keep my story “our secret”.

It wasn’t until years later, when I was going through a depressive episode in graduate school, that my mother finally confronted my brother, insisting he apologize for his actions. I vividly remember taking his call: Standing in the kitchen of the brownstone where I lived in New York City staring out a window at the Chinese restaurant below, I heard his small voice utter the words “I’m sorry.”

I’d had dreamed of this moment for years and the satisfaction I’d derive from hurling expletives his way. Instead what I felt was tremendous relief from the heavy veil of secrecy having been lifted and hearing by abuser acknowledge the truth–a truth the veracity of which I ‘d begun to question myself, so long had it remained dormant.

Sexual abuse survivors — and there are millions of us, men and women alike — will recognize this statement. As well as the narrative I’d constructed around my childhood trauma that went something along the lines of: “If you’d kept away from him it never would have happened.” “It was your fault for not telling your parents.” “You liked the attention and let it continue to happen.” Such was the guilt and self-loathing that had become deeply etched in my psyche.

Through counseling and the love of a select few I trusted with my story, I healed in fits and starts until a day not long ago when my whole perspective shifted.

I was babysitting a neighbor’s 5-year-old daughter. We made animal shadows on the wall and she squealed with delight every time I used my best ventriloquist’s voice to make the shadows “talk.” We laughed so hard that tears ran down my cheeks. She looked up at me concerned and reached to wipe my tears away. “Don’t cry,” she said. “It’ll be OK.” And that’s when it hit me: the 5-year-old me could no more have caused what my brother had done than this innocent loving child next to me could cause harm to herself.

Writing: It’s a numbers game. Many of you will think this story TMI. But perhaps one person will recognize her experience in what I’ve shared and feel more connected, less lonely. It is for her that I write.

Amy Roost is executive director of Silver Age Yoga and a multi-dimensional freelancer.

Click photo to connect with Amy.
Click photo to connect with Amy.

Her multi-dimensional suchness, Amy Roost, is a freelance writer, book publicist, legal and medical researcher, and vacation rental manager. She and her husband are the authors of “Ritual and the Art of Relationship Maintenance” due to be published later this year in a collection entitled Ritual and Healing: Ordinary and Extraordinary Stories of Transformation (Motivational Press). Amy is also Executive Director of Silver Age Yoga Community Outreach (SAYCO) which offers geriatric yoga teacher certification, and provides yoga instruction to underserved seniors.

Click here to connect with Amy.

***

Jennifer Pastiloff is a writer based in Los Angeles. She is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Jen will be leading a retreat to Ojai, Calif in May and again over Labor Day weekend. http://jenniferpastiloff.com/Yoga_Retreats_With_Jen_Pastiloff.htmlAll retreats are a combo of yoga/writing and for ALL levels. Read this post to understand what a Manifestation retreat is. Check out her site jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Jen and bestselling author Emily Rapp will be leading another writing retreat to Vermont in October. A lot. Next up are workshops in Dallas, Seattle then London!! Book here.

 

Forgiveness, Guest Posts

The Good News. By Erica Garza.

March 19, 2014

The Good News by Erica Garza

Please, I beg of you: Share the good news. Not “The Good News” they talk about in churches and cathedrals. Not “The Good News” of glossy magazine covers, detailing which celebrity lost the most baby weight this week. Not “The Good News” of the six o’clock time slot, announcing which blockbuster banked at the box office.

The better news.

Like how you’ve finally forgiven him for letting you down all those years ago. You realize now that he was scared then and battling demons that had nothing to do with you. Share how this forgiveness has bred more love between the two of you. How it has freed your heart and mind in ways that make you feel afloat in a cloudless new sky.

Share how you’ve finally stopped blaming your mother for having not done everything perfectly. For having not masked her weakness in those rare moments you were subjected to her humanity. Oh, how that scared you. And, oh, how your heart wells in compassion for her now.

Share how you managed to arrive at that delicious new plane of acceptance for the dimples in your thighs, the soft flesh of your belly and the tiny lines that have emerged from the delicate skin around your mouth. These were born out of time—hours spent nourishing the body, offering the world laughter, speaking, living.

Share the good deed you did today. Or yesterday. Please entertain the possibility that there was at least one. You participated in history, whether or not you have assigned significance to any of the precise words you selected or any of the ideas you, alone, birthed. Perhaps you smiled at someone. Perhaps you thanked someone. Perhaps you loved someone.

Share the good deeds you will do tomorrow. Even if living is all you do, try, I beg of you, to see it as good. Living is a remarkable gift, and if it is willed by the universe that you should have another day of it, know that all the things you do or choose not to do, are deeds of utter sacredness. See the sanctity in filling your lungs with breath, in savoring the sun for as long as it burns bright above you, in existing at this singular moment that is your life and yours alone.

*Originally published by Thought Catalog at www.thoughtcatalog.com

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Erica Garza is a staff writer at the feminist magazine Luna Luna. Her essays have been published by HelloGiggles, Hot Metal Bridge, Airplane Reading and C.L.A.P. She holds an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Columbia University and is now finishing her first book, a memoir about obsession called Hairywoman. Born in Los Angeles, Erica has spent most of her adult life traveling. Read her essays at www.ericagarza.com.

 

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Jennifer Pastiloff is a writer living on an airplane and the founder of The Manifest-Station.  She’s leading a Retreat in Costa Rica at the end of March and a weekend retreat in May to Ojai, Calif as well as 4 day retreat over Labor Day in Ojai, Calif. All retreats are a combo of yoga/writing for all levels. She and bestselling author Emily Rapp will be leading another writing retreat to Vermont in October. Check out her site jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up is Dallas followed by Seattle and London.  

 

Guest Posts

Tashlich. By Bernadette Murphy.

February 27, 2014

By Bernadette Murphy

Tashlich (תשליך) is a ritual that many Jews observe during Rosh Hashanah. “Tashlich” means “casting off” in Hebrew and involves symbolically casting off the sins of the previous year by tossing pieces of bread or another food into a body of flowing water. Just as the water carries away the bits of bread, so too are sins symbolically carried away. In this way the participant hopes to start the New Year with a clean slate.

This past fall I spent Rosh Hashanah weekend with a group of women in a rented house in Ventura, California, a beach town perched between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara.  The plan was to have a simple Rosh Hashanah dinner together on Sunday night and then half our group would commute back to LA to attend services in the city and the other half – including me – would take a high-speed catamaran to Santa Cruz Island (one of the amazing Channel Islands dotting the coast) for a day of hiking and open-water kayaking, a way of communing with God through nature and starting the Jewish New Year.

This was one of the first outings I’d made since telling my husband of 25 years that I no longer wanted to be married.  Though John and I were still living in the same house, trying to make it to the time when our youngest of three children would graduate high school some eight months hence, things were tense.  When he’d dropped me and my friend Rose at the train station that morning and learned from Rose when I was off buying tickets that our plans included open-water kayaking– something we as a couple had long wanted to do but, like so many things in our marriage, had never occurred  – he left my bags at the station and took off in a huff, not bothering to say goodbye.

I am not Jewish, but I joined in the ritual meal that night with delight, asking questions about the food, the holiday of the New Year, the coming of Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) and its rituals, asking why Jewish holidays always start at sundown when, as Catholics, we always started our holy days with the new day.  When this sundown rationale was explained to me, I glommed on.  I loved the idea of walking through the darkness of night, waiting for the light of the holiday to bring illumination and clear-seeing into my life.  That felt very much like the journey I was on – one of darkness and bumping around, feeling my way, stumbling, stubbing toes, afraid and trembling, waiting for a new day to dawn.

That night, Michelle, one of the women who’d organized the weekend, explained to me Tashlich, a ritual performed on Rosh Hashanah in which participants gather up leftover Challah from the meal and carry it to a place of running water – a stream, the ocean — and then cast this bread upon the waters, letting go of all the sins of the past year. The group wasn’t planning to undertake this particular ritual that night, but for me, it hit a spark.

Though I’d been no more sinful than usual in the preceding 12 months, I felt a deep need for forgiveness and asked the ladies if they’d join me in performing Tashlich.  We took flashlights to the darkened beach a block from the house, felt the sand that had been hot enough to burn our feet only a few hours earlier now cool and damp between our toes.  The moon was almost nonexistent and the ocean’s waves made a scrim of lace barely discernable in the flashlight’s dim glow.

I meandered away from the group and felt the bread, sticking together in my hand.  Reared in a devout Irish-Catholic home, I remembered making communion wafers out of Wonder Bread, its texture perfect  — soft, white, pliable – to form little body-of-Christ discs.  This Challah bread, though, felt different, with more edges and crust, sharp bits that bit into my palm like the pieces of glass that felt lodged in my lungs whenever I thought about leaving my marriage.  I tore the bread into little pieces, lots and lots of pieces for all the things I needed to let go.

First off, being a devoted wife.  I tossed a piece into the ocean, repentant. I had spent 25 years as loyal as I possibly could be, faithful, giving my heart and soul to my family only to find myself profoundly alone at the end of each day.  That hadn’t always been the case, but for the past decade or so, I could no longer ignore the low-grade ache of loneliness within the façade of couple-hood that never left, like a headache that eases on occasion but never departs.  I had wanted to be a good wife and had done all I was capable of doing in that way, seeking individual therapy for myself, working on my own issues, asking John to sign us up for couples therapy.  But after all that work, I found myself unable to be the kind of fully present wife I wanted to be.  To stay in the marriage and fake that devotion was to do us both a grave disservice. But I mourned the wife I had set out to be the day I made my marriage vows.

I tossed another piece of bread into the ocean – my desire to be a perfect mother.  Together, John and I raised three wonderful young people.  The work we did together as co-parents is a testament to our love of them and our desire to be the best parents we could be, a desire that I must admit trumped our need to be good spouses to each other.  Whenever I feel sad about the demise of our marriage, I remember the kids that are the product of it and I can’t stay in the sadness too long.  While we were unable to help each other in the way that I think the best couples are able to, to love and support each other as unique individuals, we had been fabulous parents together.  And maybe that’s why our marriage paid a price – always so focused on the kids.  But now that I was planning to leave, I knew I would have to give up the mantle of the good mother.  A good mother doesn’t leave her children’s father.  A good mother keeps the family together at any cost, is the glue that binds it all together.  My glue had long ago lost its stickiness.  And I had allowed it to.

I threw in bread for the marriage I thought I had been building all those years, for the household we’d created, for the house we’d lost to foreclosure 12 years earlier and the new house we’d managed to buy just a year-and-a-half ago.  I threw in a piece of bread for the many hardships we’d weathered together:  John’s near-death from a pulmonary embolism, our second son’s near-drowning at age three, that same son’s diagnosis with a severe anxiety disorder in high school, the death of John’s mother, the passing of my father.  We’d been able to weather those hardships as a couple – difficulties that might have ended the marriage long before this point — but rather than strengthening the bond, at some point, the troubles started piling on top of each other, saddling our relationship with a burden we couldn’t quite escape.  My sin, I suppose, was in letting it happen, in not speaking up sooner, in not knowing how to correct this trajectory.

I threw in bread for the young woman I’d been when I’d paired up with John –  22, wide-eyed, looking for security at any cost – and another piece for the older, wiser and more flinty woman I’ve since become, now staring down the barrel of 50.  Bread tossed away, like the hours of our lives, like the dreams and hopes we must relinquish in order for other, new ones to arrive. I emptied my hands of the Challah, letting go of all I knew.  My tears mixed with the salty brine licking at my feet.

A week and a half later, as Yom Kippur approached, I figured that since Rosh Hashanah had been so spiritually helpful, I’d observe that atonement holy day as well. I found it odd that Rosh Hashanah, the New Year, preceded the Day of Atonement, that the sweetness of the New Year came first, apples dipped in honey, when the fasting had yet to begin.  But maybe that’s human nature: we need a taste of the sweetness to lure us into doing the hard work.  I went to Catholic Mass in the morning on Yom Kippur – I know, an odd way to celebrate a Jewish holiday, but there you have it – and prayed my heart out. One of the things I’d learned about the Day of Atonement is that it’s a time to ask to be released from any contracts we were unable to keep in the past year.  And that’s what I prayed for: I acknowledged that I had entered into this marriage contract willingly and had said those words – till death to us part – of my own volition.  But I could see now how unable I was to understand their meaning when I said them.  I was, at the time, a woman with great emotional wounds.  The daughter of an alcoholic/mentally ill mother, I was an untreated alcoholic myself seeking in a desperate way a man who would keep me from going crazy as she had, and perhaps get me to tone down the drinking.  Now, with 23 years of sobriety behind me and the clear vision that comes with it, I see that I was incapable of making those vows that day in any real way, too desperate for someone to save me from myself.  I admitted this to God, kneeling at Holy Redeemer Church on Yom Kippur, asking divine forgiveness and love, requesting that I finally be released from those vows.  I didn’t hear any angels singing God’s acceptance of my request, nor did the heavens part and a dove descend.  Tears flowed, snot ran, sniffles ensued.  After I’d destroyed what seemed an entire boxful of tissues, I was cried out and left the church, my heart half a gram lighter.

Yom Kippur is a day of fasting, and as a Catholic, I’d always been a terrible faster, cheating every time I’d been given the chance, claiming hypoglycemia or whatever excuse I might dig up to support the fact that being hungry made me irritable, anxious and scared.  But this day felt epic.  I needed to atone for my part in the end of this marriage.  And so I fasted.  Oddly, it was not nearly the ordeal I’d feared and that told me something crucial.  The things I fear and run from are the very things, that when I sit down calmly and face them, are not nearly the boogiemen I’d anticipated.  Yes, there was a mild headache as the day wore on, yes, my stomach growled and I felt a bit weakened, but the hours passed.  I felt as if I were doing my part and that was reward in itself.

I broke the fast with the same ladies who had been with me in Ventura, the taste of food heavenly after a day of want, the flavors made richer by simple hunger.

A few weeks later, I moved out of the family house into a one-room guesthouse with a Murphy bed, a tiny kitchenette, and gorgeous west-facing windows that paint the wooden floors golden in the afternoon light.  I’d found out that once you speak the words “I’m done,” it’s nearly impossible to stay.  And more importantly, having undertaken these rituals with my Jewish friends, I’d felt strengthened and ready.  A person can only do what a person can do; I’d done all I could to make the relationship viable.  When I could not resurrect it, I’d had to acknowledge my limitations and make a choice.  Did I want to remain in a secure place, or was I ready to grow?

I’m grateful that I didn’t realize, before leaving, how amazingly painful and grief-stricken this transition would be.  I had foolishly thought that since I’d enacted these rituals and had undertaken boatloads of therapy and worked for discernment, that would be that.  I would walk away with a clear conscience and need not dwell on the past nor on what might have been.  But leaving children behind is never easy, even mostly grown children.  I feared abandoning them as my mother had abandoned my siblings and me.  And the grief?  I couldn’t have guessed there’d be so damn many layers of it.

My heart on many days feels like it is made of Jell-O, warm and creepy Jell-O that leaks all over me, staining my hands that indelible artificial red as I try to force it back into the shape of a heart, leaving a film of stickiness everywhere, a layer I cannot fully wash away.

Yet, now ensconced in my new place, a gift I can never repay, I enact new rituals.  I light candles and meditate and allow myself to feel as deeply as I can, to breathe into my heart the pain of this transformation, and to feel at that moment a sense of communion with all the other souls undergoing similar transitions.  I walk to the grocery store and buy only that which I can carry home, a reminder that I’m on my own now and need care for myself first and foremost. Give us this day our daily bread.  I cook in much smaller quantities – dinner for one – and am learning to find joy in doing so.  I live a block from my daughter’s high school and I lure her into joining me for homework or dinner or a sleep-over at least once a week; I drive to the family home to help her with college applications.  I’m learning how to be an active mother even when not sharing living quarters with my children.  And I ache in a new way – not the old familiar ache of loneliness within a coupled façade, but the bone-annihilating ache of reconstruction.  I remember reading about caterpillars turning into butterflies.  It’s not like the caterpillar gives up one leg – I can manage without this one leg this week – in exchange for, say, a wing, allowing transformation to happen little by little, piece by piece, exchanging one existence for another.  No.  The caterpillar basically becomes mush, he ceases to exist as a caterpillar for the time of transformation and becomes a pile of juice, a clump of nothing more than wet potential for as long as it takes to reform as a butterfly.  I’m in that mush state now.  Neither wife nor single. Neither fulltime mom nor absent mom.  Neither the scared young girl who said “I do” in a church all those years ago, nor the woman who is learning to live fully on her own.  It’s a tender-to-the-bone kind of transformation filled with ragged edges and messiness.  But it’s real and I feel genuine as I walk through it.  I’m grateful for Tashlich, for Rosh Hashanah, for Catholic Mass, for Yom Kippur, for candles and meditation, for my children’s willingness to try to understand my choice even though it hurts them, and for all the rituals – secular, spiritual, and motherhood-related — that are being redesigned to fit this new reality.  These are the elements that are carrying forward through this dark night, the ceremonies and graces that will one day deliver me into a new dawn that hasn’t yet arrived.

Bernadette Murphy-1 copy 2

Bernadette Murphy is currently writing “Look, Lean, Roll,” a book about women, motorcycles and risk taking, Bernadette Murphy has published three books of narrative nonfiction (including the bestselling “Zen and the Art of Knitting”) and teaches creative writing at the Antioch University Los Angeles MFA program.

 

Jennifer Pastiloff, Beauty Hunter, is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Check out jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up: South Dakota, NYC, Dallas, Kripalu Center For Yoga & Health, Tuscany. She is also leading a Writing + The Body Retreat with Lidia Yuknavitch Jan 30-Feb 1 in Ojai (sold out) as well as Other Voices Querétaro with Gina Frangello, Emily Rapp, Stacy Berlein, and Rob Roberge. She tweets/instagrams at @jenpastiloff.

Click to order Simplrereminders book.

Click to order Simplrereminders book.