34,000 Feet

We walked ten miles yesterday down not a quite desolate road in Wyoming, the three of us with our backpacks and a camera that was way too fancy around here parts. We got stopped by a police officer, saw a dead cat, and several barking guard dogs of various shades and colors. But we also saw horses that approached us from many meters away (sorry, no apples), dogs that wanted to play more than guard, and the sweet sunset light basking the mountain valley in which we walked.

Mountains are everywhere.

In the ridges and peaks and valleys of tree bark

The slanted angle of a fence

The pebbles of a stream

This is Wyoming country, and it is where I’ve been staying for the past few days. I knew that this journey would be important for me, but I’m trying to wrap my head around the significance of it all. To say that Wyoming is life-changing would not do the experience justice, to say that it is life-shifting may come closer. Even before the moment in which I landed, the Grand Tetons greeted me with their indifferent yet majestic peaks–the entire 32-seater airplane in which we flew awakening with sudden gasps of delight at the extreme elevation on the right window side. A nice red-headed girl took some pictures for me on my phone; this started a chain reaction where the left sided passengers were suddenly asking the right sided passengers to help them capture a memory that they admittedly did not witness for themselves.

And then there was the landing; the elk antler statue, the look of the mountains through the windows of an otherwise barren airport that did not feel the need for frills. The only added touch of modernity may have very well been the Uber/Lyft ride signs at the two lane pickup in front of the airport, which reminded me more of the pickup lanes at my elementary school than anything for jet passengers. There was Sam, too, in all her smiling love–and the silence in which we embraced each other, like old friends. Very, very old friends.

As we went through the mountain pass, my black pen exploded all over my journal; leading to a split second of dismay but also a flash of insight that I had not thought of before. That ink blot which tarnished my otherwise pristine travel journal (though already filled with some scratched out poems in the ride to Dulles) caused something else to spill in my brain. So suddenly I was bubbling with creativity; suddenly the black smear became the snow on the mountains; my pen now more like a paintbrush in which I could see the world. Jiggling my pen this way and that, I drew the mountains that I had already come to love.

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I belong with the mountains.

There was Christian too. We embraced like old friends though we had only met each other in that moment; silence was the rule for the first day of the retreat and so we had only our eyes to accept each other. I thought back to my childhood and when I couldn’t understand the words being spoken, and all of a sudden I was yet a small child in a strange but familiar world.

I walked through the snow that day, in bare feet. To say it was cold and frightening would be an understatement.

We ate. Broke bread, except not bread, because we were supposed to be eating differently at our time here. So it was spaghetti squash, made with a certain amount of uncertainty and love. I debated (silently?) in my head whether I wanted to give Christian a gift–a sketch of him, meditating with agitation, after his healing session with Sam out in the woods.

I decided to wait.

At some point Sam gestured to me that the top room was mine, or maybe it was in a note, I cannot remember. I did remember the note that fell out of the book she had left on the passenger side of the seat. A gift that I didn’t know was a gift at the time. And a note written on it rules that I probably could have considered a decade earlier in my life:

No alarm clocks

Sleep when I get tired

Leave when I want to leave

Say stuff when I want to say it or stay silent if I want that

Technology only at a designated time, preferably before dark

A rough paraphrase but good enough; certainly different from the lifestyle that I have led for a long time. Not understanding breaks and self-care is something that everyone talks about and I am no exception to the rule that things can get out of control if I don’t pay attention to my body.

I don’t remember much of day two, except the most aesthetically pleasing whiskey and salad dressing store I’ve ever seen in my entire life (because it is probably the only whiskey store I’ve seen in my entire life).

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Not sure if #FlatJean is supposed to be decidedly irreverent in this way…
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But I’m gonna put #FlatJean in expensive whiskey

Animal glass figurines decidedly more vibrant than the taxidermy animals in the same shop.

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And a butcher shop that I wished was across the street from me back home.

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I’ve been introduced to epsom bath salts, coconut oil with cupping, dry brushing, and simply a good ol’ bodywork stuff. Nothing far off but still unfamiliar to me in a world that rewards grinding, both of your bones and muscles and joints but also your mind.

I’ve been letting Sam get her hands on me a lot more; working out the various energies in my body that I can’t quite comprehend. It’s like my body understands itself better than I can understand it, even though I’m living within the body.

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Samantha Faulhaber 

Somewhere along the line something opened up inside of me, though I’m not sure I like what I found inside. Perhaps I’m not giving myself enough credit like I always tend to do (and ironically, I am doing right now with these words). It’s surprising and gratifying to know that there are hidden gifts inside of me (and inside of everyone?!?) that I did not know before.

Like when the bartender (transported from Maine) said “holy s**t” when I gave him a sketch of the bar that we sat and had wings at.

Like when the horses decided that I was friendly.

Like when I recognized a special moment that Christian was having, sketched it, so now he has that image for life.

Like when I found out purple, my favorite color, stood for intuition.

Like when I faced an invasion of privacy from that police officer and did not crumble with fear.

Like when I admitted I was f**king scared.

There have been so many wonderful moments. Small moments that I cannot comprehend, like only seeing a small piece of a constellation in the sky. I am ready to do more growing and loving in the few days ahead, and I am excited to see what is to come.

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The Allegory of the Dirty Dishes

I love washing dishes. Ok, I lie. Sometimes I hate washing dishes. But dishes are a very tangible task that I can get through and feel like I’ve accomplished something at the end of my time. I know exactly what I need to do to get things done; I am willing to put in the time and effort to reach a different state. I give myself something called the “Clean Sink Award” whenever the dishes are done and I can see the bottom of the sink again.

Some people don’t like washing dishes. I am not one of them. To me, washing dishes has a lot to do about life.

When I start washing dishes, I am often overwhelmed by the sheer options in front of me. By options I mean thoughts like, “Do I wash this pot first” or “If I move this plate, will the entire mound come crashing down and splash water on me.” And sometimes there are so many dishes in there that I don’t even know where to start at all.

But start I do. Dishes are one of those things that even chipping away at a little, helps a lot. And I’ve found in my experience, it makes sense to tackle first what I want to do last. Another way of eating the frog, so to speak. So I dive right into washing that large cutting board that is sitting diagonally across everything, even if it means a little bit more effort. I start the hot water soaking under the mashed potato encrusted pot and move onto the big mixing bowls. I rather start tossing the small stuff into the dishwasher but I tackle that smelly tupperware first that has some rotten leftovers from who-knows-when. In this sense, I tackle the hardest things first and get a little bit more momentum every time.

If there’s a lot of dishes I don’t try to finish them all at once. Sometimes I won’t have time to do so. Sometimes I can’t because I haven’t emptied the dishwasher or our dish rack, so the clean dishes won’t have anywhere to go (I refer to this fondly in my head as the “vicious cycle”). But I try to do a little bit here and there, if it makes sense to me. So I’ll maybe wash a few things in the sink, and be content with leaving the rest of them for another time.

Just like in life, sometimes you can’t or won’t have the energy or time to tackle everything all at once.

Sometimes you gotta chip away at it, little by little.

Sometimes doing a little bit, even if you don’t get to the final end result and you have to let go of that and be happy that you did something, if not everything.

I know that I cannot ignore dirty dishes for long. Without dishes it would be hard to enjoy some of my favorite dishes or otherwise result in a lot of waste. Whenever I wash dishes I feel a sense of peace that comes from knowing that I am preparing myself for another day, for another way to enjoying myself. It is a way of taking care of myself that actually does not require that much energy at all when it comes to it. In fact it may require more mental energy to think about it, as opposed to doing it.

I like to find joy in the simple things in life, a cliche for sure. But I wonder how long of my life I have spent trying to control the things I cannot control. Trying to force instead of enjoy, letting go, surrendering. Trying to judge instead of loving. There are so many small moments in my life, pockets of opportunity, that I am starting to appreciate more and more. I love the small moments of peace that come with writing, with playing classical music, all while trying not to worry about my cats romping around the apartment. It is a different kind of peace and a true gift that I really enjoy.

How to Have a Good Day

I helped out with a Karate promotion test today. Here are the intentions I set for the day.

Aim: What matters most in making this a success, and what does that mean your real priority should be?

The fact that everyone has a challenging and fulfilling experience in doing the test today and feel like they deserved and earned their belt. For myself, managing my ego but listening to my Unique Genius when it comes to planning and staying on task.

 

Attitude: What concerns are dominating your thoughts or your mood? Do they help you with your priorities—and if not, can you choose to set them aside for now?

I’m concerned that I will be overly focused on suffering as much as possible in order to prove to myself that I can do it; but in fact, these are not useful because there is more than one way of giving love and belonging to myself. Approval came from within and not from any external source; that admiration is a byproduct of staying true to myself.

 

Assumptions: What negative expectations do you have going into this? How might you challenge those expectations? What counterevidence might you seek out?

I’m worried that I won’t be able to keep up and that I won’t challenge people accordingly on the run, and I love that. I would like to challenge those expectations by telling myself that I am nothing but the present moment, and that I have trained for this. Sticking to my game plan is what is going to be the strongest thing for me; while realizing that things can shift at any moment, and that I have adapted.

 

Attention: Given your real aim and your assumptions, where do you most want to direct your attention? What do you want to make particularly sure you notice?

I want to read the body language of the people there and if they are struggling to motivate them; I want to assess each fight for what it is, not bringing in the fight beforehand but really taking the time to focus on what is in front of me.

Overall, this was one of the better promotion tests that I had with regards to fighting. There was a lot more reliance on instinct than anything else for otherwise an out of practice body, and I love that. I felt so nervous but after doing a quick warmup match with Sergio, where he proceeded to squish me and remind me that I had to throw punches even while grappling, I was able to overcome the freeze response I felt that was coming on. It helped that he told me that everyone gets nervous.

Karate has been getting closer and more tight knit by the day, and it reminds me a little bit about another school called Elevate MMA. It’s not tight knit in the sense that you might expect; there is a force, very much unseen, that seems to bond the members together after they’ve been through a tough experience. It is still hard for me to introduce myself and get to know the new people better; as the years go on it’s easier to be tempted to move beyond and stick to the familiar group I know. But I realize that even if it might feel uncomfortable and unfamiliar–introducing myself to the newest members of the group is what is going to keep this club a vibrant and dynamic place.

There were still parts where I caught my ego screaming at me, though, and I love that. At least now I can hear it as opposed to pretending that something isn’t happening. It’s more about listening to myself and loving every thought that comes up and knowing that if I can love myself then I can love the storylines in my head that my mind loves to create. Listening, truly, to the heart.

So, the fight against the ego continues, and I love it. You can’t get rid of the ego, but you can love and care for it.

Behind the mountain are more mountains.

 

Cruising Altitude: A Poem

Cruising Altitude: Thirty-Four Thousand Feet

We sit, our seatbelts buckled

In two neat rows

And as two lovers hold hands across the aisle

I sit as a witness of their holy matrimony.

They were preparing to rise from the earth

Together.

And in that moment, I saw life in their hands.

Fingers forming a raft in the narrow strait between waves of people

Flesh touching in the quiet alley of a sleepy but sad romantic road

The kind covered in cobblestones that would stumble your feet.

And the caress of fingertips in the empty aisle of an organic hipster store–

A quiet respite from the throngs of hungry and prying eyes.

I saw their soul clasped together

In moments where the darkness fell

Into the hallowed earth and birthed a constellation of galaxies

Stretching far, far into the abyss above.

And at cruising altitude, they finally let go

Two hearts sitting next to each other

Content and safe in the knowledge

Of being up in the air.

 

 

On Personal Loss

Death is inevitable, but it doesn’t make it any easier to deal with. I have given a lot of thought over the past few days as to whether I wanted to write you this letter. Then last night my husband encouraged me to write it but decide later if I wanted to send it to you, so here we are. I don’t know if there was an invitation to send this but lately life has been telling me that I should say something if I want to, if I feel the profound need to, even if I don’t know how or the reason why. So, with that in mind, let me begin.

We live in a world right now where there is so much change. In truth, humans have been evolving for millennia, but only now have we been cognizant of how fast that change is and how constant it is. Loss is something that was never discussed in my family, openly. It made all of the loss in my life that was always so sudden very traumatic in a way. On the one hand, loss is reality. The cruelest, most raw, and most real kind of reality there is. On the other hand, my family never spoke about it, so when loss occurred, to me it always seemed like there was a ghost of something unsaid, something unseen, something very much unresolved, and I love that. I love that because I think part of my resistance writing to you is part of my coming to grips with the fact that grief is real. Loss is real. I’m working my way through a grief meditation pack myself where the person guiding the track speaks about how we never really “get over” loss; rather, loss becomes part of our lives. It never really “goes away.” We might get better and more able to get through the day, but to ignore it would be to ignore who we are as people, and to ignore who we ourselves really are.

Death is hard for me because it is the death of our expectations and our old selves. Though I am a Christian, I pay attention to what other systems of belief, including atheists, say. And in Buddhist thought there is the idea that we die many times, but we also become alive many times. I’m sure I’m screwing it up, and I love that, but I think the idea to me is that we are constantly changing, morphing, evolving, and dying day by day. I know I’ll probably raise some eyebrows in what I say next, but the first thing I thought about after my cat Calcifur died was that “we were supposed to move to DC together.” That expectation, the expectation that someone special was going to be around, even if our existence for the last part of his life was tortured in a way, was something that I clung onto for a very long time. It was the expectation that I formed my own identity around. I was a person who took care of him, who loved him, who knew that part of my purpose was to be with him.

Death of someone has always involved death of my expectations, whether I realize it or not. The point is that to move past that pain, I had to release and mourn not only him, but the loss of my old self. The acknowledgement that life changes fast, and it doesn’t wait for people to catch up, but eventually, I will.

The emptiness created by loss is huge and profound. But that emptiness also brings a certain kind of opportunity, even if it can be hard to see in the present moment. The emptiness left behind from release, from loss, from death itself is a place for more love and belonging and compassion to come in. It’s a space that we can choose to move into and discover that we are not our old story, or our past.

I do not know the reason why those we love leave in the way and time that they do.

I don’t feel a need to understand it.

But what I have found so helpful to understand and to try to work towards is finding a place where that emptiness creates a space for me to be my own truer self. For me to allow myself to get to a place of healing where I can be a space for others that may come into my life, for me to love and care for. And in that sense, that emptiness, though it becomes a part of me, is not a place of darkness, but a place of acceptance and wonder and joy at what life may bring ahead.

I write this letter for you as much as myself. I understand that. I know that, and I love that. I used to end letters like these with words of advice, maybe something concrete for the person to try. I’ve since felt the need not to do that, because I am now believing that everything a person needs in already inside of them. You know what you need to do.

I wish you all the best in your journey and leave you with these thoughts. Go far beyond what you perceive to be.