Enough

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“A flower does not think of competing with the flower next to it. It just blooms.” [Zen Shin]

You know that story—the one you tell yourself about how you’re not enough? Not fit enough to go to the gym, not pretty enough to wear makeup, not smart enough to take that class, not brave enough to speak your truth, not worthy enough to love? That one?

It’s a bad story. By which I mean poorly written. It’s flat-out boring, and that’s a problem. I’m bored with this narrative I have of myself. Yeah, it can keep me safe, but it also keeps me in. It holds me back.

A lot of times, there’s no way of knowing whether I am enough if I don’t try the thing more than once. Or, more likely, being enough just doesn’t have much to do with it. And pretending like it’s all that matters is lazy—a poorly written, boring story. It’s a stereotype—girl gets a makeover and finds out she’s pretty after all, smarty-pants guy gets the professional recognition he deserves. Neither of these are about the journey of acquiring enough-ness; they don’t show us the real grit and failure of an honest story.

Because I’m mostly not enough. I could be better—a better teacher, a better writer, a better listener, a better friend, a better daughter, a better student, a better climber…. But all those take work; they’re risky and difficult. And they’re also not boring. If “enough” were really the goal, how boring it’d be once we got there!

So instead of denying that story, instead of telling it, “No, you’re wrong—I am enough,” next time it stops in for a visit, I’ll be honest: “You bore me. I’ve heard enough of you, and this life I’m getting to live is too interesting for me to stop and listen to another boring story.”

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What I’ve Learned about Forgiveness

In light of the #metoo movement, I’ve come across some interesting discussions about the role of forgiveness–whether it’s an outdated concept, what its utility even is, who gets to give and receive it.

I’ve been on this long road of forgiveness for a few years myself, and I’ve done some helpful reading on the topic, too. Below are a few things I’ve learned about forgiving others:

  1. Forgiving isn’t just for people who go to church. Or temple, or mosque, or people who sit regularly on their meditation cushions. Certainly these traditions help us witness, contextualize, and understand forgiveness in action, but they’re not prerequisites to meaning or purpose in our lives–much less forgiveness. What is a prerequisite to forgiveness, I think, is the desire to heal. To want to move on, lighten the load. Hurt and betrayal weigh us down, and the kind of fear that (naturally) results from experiencing them often keeps us from trying what we want to try, and accomplishing what we’re aiming to accomplish.
  2. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that anyone gets to forgo the consequences of their actions. You can look to forgive a coworker for harassing you while you pursue the repercussions available to you at your workplace. You can forgive a thief and still file a police report. These aren’t mutually exclusive actions. You can forgive while pursuing justice and, often, we really should do both. An essential part of forgiveness is coming to terms with what happened and what needs to happen going forward. So much of forgiveness has to do with working against our own denial. And yes, it’s uncomfortable to dwell in a place where we’re both hurt and open to the possibility of letting go of that hurt. This is why it’s helpful to consider how…
  3. Forgiveness is a journey. Like almost anything worth doing in this life, forgiveness isn’t a split-second decision resulting in immediate transformation. As Dear Sugar says in this wonderful letter, “You know how alcoholics who go to AA are always using that phrase one day at a time? They say that because to say I will never drink again is just too f***ing much. It’s big and hard and bound to fail.” Committing to a once-and-for-all forgiveness (a “just let it go” moment) is too big and hard, and it’s most often bound to fail. The first step, as Dear Sugar suggests, is acceptance: just recognizing what happened, and maybe how. Being able to say, even silently to yourself, “I was harassed,” or “He humiliated me,” exemplifies this step. Sometimes this process of acceptance, this inquiry into what happened, opens up the reality that there is more than one person to forgive. For example, I know that I’ve reacted in ways I’ve regretted to people who’ve hurt me; so in accepting what all happened, I’ve realized that I needed to forgive myself, too. For me, the act of forgiving is ongoing, a practice. It doesn’t do any good to pretend you’re not angry, or not hurting–there’s acceptance again. So, once you’ve accepted what’s already present, how can you best process it in a way that moves toward forgiveness?
  4. Nobody deserves forgiveness. Nobody is more deserving of forgiveness than anybody else. Someone doesn’t (and can’t!) earn your forgiveness by apologizing to you, “making it up” to you in some way, or by doing something that was no big deal in the first place. (Side note: who else needs to practice responding to “I’m sorry” with “Thank you” instead of “Oh, it’s okay”???) Similarly, you can forgive someone whether or not they apologize to you. You don’t even have to communicate with the perpetrator to forgive them, especially if reaching out to them is going to cause more pain for either of you. Forgiveness doesn’t have to be something you say to the person who hurt you at all, because…
  5. Forgiveness is about showing yourself mercy. Carrying the burden of knowing someone took advantage of you, hurt you, betrayed you–in any way and for any reason–is painful. This kind of pain drains your energy, takes away the joy and color from so many other parts of our lives. And it’s hard enough to be hurt in the first place! One of my favorite yoga teachers Kathryn Budig once said in an Instagram post, “Doubt will try to wiggle its way in, but its only fuel is your permission. Starve it with your faith.” I think this can also be true, to an extent, when it comes to trauma. Of course we have no control over what other people say or do to us, how they decide to treat us. But we do have control over our reactions–what we let steep into our consciousness and why, what we continue to mull over. We can “starve” these painful moments and toxic memories by revoking our permission to let them stick around and continue to hurt us, by forgiving.
  6. You don’t get to forgive someone for harming someone else. I think this is especially important in light of #metoo. You can only forgive someone for the harm they did to you. Yes, it’s terrible and difficult when it’s revealed that yet another public figure, maybe one you admired, has done something awful to a woman or girl–or many women and girls. But what they did to those people is not the same betrayal that you’ve experienced. And notice that I’m not saying your pain in that situation is invalid–it certainly is valid–but it’s a fundamentally different kind of pain. Bill Cosby, for example, violated our trust. But the trust he allegedly violated for so many women was personal, physical, and deliberate–related to our pain too, but very different in scope from our own. We don’t get to claim others’ traumas, others’ pain; and in that same vein, we can only forgive Cosby for the harm he’s done to us, not others.

Do these ring true to you? What have you learned about forgiveness? Please share in the comments, if you wish!

Love to all.

A National Wound

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Art by Josh Williams, from https://heartbreakamerica.com.

Something I’ve been considering lately—and I know I’m not alone in this—is our current political moment in America. Not only is our president unpopular and repulsively incapable of coherence, but many recent events are arguably assembling into an assault on empathy and compassion. This nonstop rhetoric of division. Trump backed the US out of the Paris climate agreement, has gotten away with bragging about sexually assaulting women, throws together a budget proposal that would be devastating for the poor, consistently calls upon stereotypes to depict minorities, and bullies some foreign leaders while lauding praise on other foreign leaders who are, themselves, bullies. In this state, what good are words? What good is art, or beauty, or attempting to foster compassion?

I want to share with you, dear reader—especially those of you who are particularly threatened by this administration—the young, the poor, LGBTQIA individuals, women and girls, minorities, Muslims, Hispanics, Jews, artists, healthcare workers, activists, scientists, animal lovers, outdoor enthusiasts, parents and teachers with a stake in the future. I’d like to share some quotes that both bring me solace and challenge me to act. Since writing is one of the languages I speak, this is my offering to you.

It has been helpful to me to reconstruct my understanding of pain and suffering as a signal of the work that needs to be done, a calling. Mother Theresa once said, “I used to believe that prayer changes things, but now I know that prayer changes us and we change things.” Agitation and suffering are the impetuses of great change.

I’ve also been thinking about suffering as physical—we say that our hearts break for the parents of trans children murdered, for the addicts unable to afford treatment, for the victims of police brutality, for the children growing up poor, for the coastal homeowners facing rising sea levels and more volatile hurricane seasons, the dying polar bears, the thirsty in Flint, the rape victims whose rape kits languish untested. When Trump won the election, students walked around Colorado State University’s campus crying, holding each other. Our understanding of pain begins as physical, as wound, as foreshadowing of death.

Rumi: “The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”

In Krista Tippett’s 2014 interview with writer and philosopher Dr. Joanna Macy for her radio show and podcast On Being, Dr. Macy talks about heartbreak: “World is lover, world is self and that it’s OK for our hearts to be broken over the world. What else is the heart for?” In the unedited version of this interview, Dr. Macy also says that if our hearts could physically break open, that’s where we could fit the whole world. Wounding, breaking in the body is a making space for something new; vulnerability as a possibility for growth.

In Tippett’s 2016 interview with poet and memoirist Mary Karr, Karr says, “as deep as a wound is, that’s how deep the healing can be.”

We are a relatively new nation, but our American experiment with multiculturalism and diversity is even newer. We are in pursuit of deep, wide, expansive healing. Healing as deep as slavery and segregation. Healing as deep as institutionalized objectification of women. As deep and long as churches and teachers and parents who’ve hurt us. The potential for healing is great, and vast.

One final quote I’d like to leave for you comes from Terry Tempest Williams’s marvelous and most recent book, The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks. In it she carries on a correspondence with activist Tim DeChristopher, who served prison time for protesting a 2008 Bureau of Land Management (BLM) auction of oil and gas extraction leases by outbidding on land he would not (and could not) pay for. In discussing climate change with Williams, DeChristopher said, “We must let ourselves be shattered by the hopelessness of the crisis . . . When we abandon the hope that things will work out, the hope that we will be able to live the easy and comfortable life which we are promised, the hope that someone else will solve this problem, then we are free to act . . . The opposite of hope is empowerment” (271).

Suffering is a call to action. What change will your hopelessness cause you to work toward? Work from our places of wounding, and vulnerability. This is where fierceness comes from, fierce compassion. And we can all agree, I think, that our nation could stand to see more compassion in every place, every school, every home, every broken heart.

Visiting the Poudre River

Visiting the Poudre River

As many of you know, I began my graduate studies this fall at Colorado State University in creative writing. An assignment in one of my classes required that I choose an outdoor “site,” which I am to visit on a regular basis, take notes, and then journal about it later. I’ve been visiting the Cache la Poudre River, which runs through Fort Collins, via the city-owned Poudre Trail, for a little over a month now. On my last visit, Friday September 30th, I took my camera along with me. Here are some excerpts from journal so far, along with a few photos.

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A sign for the Poudre Trail via Lee Martinez Park in Fort Collins, CO

August 20

I arrived at my site at 3:20PM. It was 86° Fahrenheit and mostly sunny, with puffy white cumulonimbus clouds in the north. I was sitting on the south bank of the river, the water flowing east. The river appeared almost a copper color because of the stones in its bed. The current was rather swift –as I could tell by the passing inner tube floaters—like a slow jog. According to the markings on the underside of the Poudre Trail pedestrian bridge over the river, the water was just under three feet deep.

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Willows and cottonwoods on the Poudre’s north bank

All around me were dogs, children swimming, and more people walking, running, or biking on the paved trail. Through the trees and over the sound of rushing water I could hear people cheering, laughing, and chatting. There was a constant sound of crickets chirping, and an occasional whisper of breeze through foliage.

In the water, a fresh four-foot Russian Olive branch with all its leaves floated by. I noticed stray, straight spider-silk threads in the grass and in the elm branches above me. Slowly a dragonfly flew by me toward the east. Some individual sparrows crossed the river as well. Dogs barked in the distance, and thunder could be heard coming from the north; the clouds grew darker across the river.

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September 12

I always thought the Poudre River was named after snow powder, especially since it drops 7,000 feet in elevation from the Rockies through a narrow, chiseled canyon, to conjoin with the South Platte River east of Greeley, Colorado. It actually refers to French Canadian trappers, in the early 1800’s, hiding their cache of gunpowder there during a particularly bad blizzard. The Poudre River is Colorado’s only nationally recognized “Wild & Scenic River.”

Behind me, a woman running west clears her throat. Two bikes tick east. The sun clouds over.

September 17

Today the Cache la Poudre River is just over one foot tall, the pedestrian bridge informs me.

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This means about 775 gallons of river water, of Rocky Mountain snowmelt, are flowing beneath that bridge every second. What seems like a humble stream to the eye—especially with monumental rivers in my mind, the Colorado and Snake nearby, the New and Mississippi and Chattanooga out east—is really a powerhouse, always on the move. Small yellow leaves are floating downstream, to the east, away from the Rocky Mountains and toward the South Platte River, toward the heartland. I read that brown trout spawn here in the fall, but I see no fish in the clear water down to the copper-y bottom, littered with round granite stones. Sometimes I hear the fish—a sudden catch of water, white flash slap above the surface.

Along the bank two blue jays stutter squawks at one another. One flies into view and lands on a yellowing cottonwood branch. His body is a jewel blue and he wears a white collar just above his breast, beneath a blue cockscomb. Later I learn this is the edge of the blue jay’s livable range, as far as they come; the foothills of the Rocky Mountains halt them the way they halted railroads, the way they still halt clouds and precipitation.

I think about the river, about the trout. What would it feel like to live in water constantly flowing in one direction? Not like an ocean where the tide is a rhythm of give and take, but always east, the way our ancestors felt pulled westward continually. I ask a fisher friend about the trout—the brown, the rainbow, the cutthroat. He says you can often go back to the same spot on the Poudre or Snake or wherever, the same hole or stone, and catch the very same fish—they don’t stray too far. My concept of fish life has been shaped mostly by the story of spawning salmon and—let’s face it—Finding Nemo, so this was news to me, that fish don’t drift or migrate or explore in spite of the debris that floats right by, that the river doesn’t become their timeline on which to travel. I thought a good metaphor might be that little conveyor belt in sushi restaurants that slowly slides enticing sashimi and rolls right before your eyes, for the taking. I guess a river might feel more like that to a fish—food constantly coming and going all day, all night, abundance set spinning by the engine of gravity, by the churning of season, of freeze and thaw.

September 22

I count thirty-five bleats of train horn in the span of several minutes. A helicopter hovers somewhere to the south and car engines rumble to the east. Behind me, bikes pass and dog leashes jingle. Occasional bits of conversation slip through the weeds—two students stressed about the new semester, a mother making safety-related requests of her young child on a miniature bicycle, two middle-aged women building each other up. A propeller plane’s engine rattles from above, behind cover of low, gray clouds.

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Cottonwoods framing the Poudre River Trail

I have just heard how little land in this country remains untouched by human-generated noise. If not an interstate, then a highway. If not a highway, then a railroad. If not a railroad, then trails for ATVs or snowmobiles. If not a trail, then a reservoir with a marina. And if no marina, then planes etching their contrails above, or helicopters leading rescues of people lost in the wilderness. Silence deserts. The scarceness of silence. This must have devastating effects on animals, especially those who rely on their hearing to find prey, to hunt, to stay safe, to not become prey, to survive.

When I hear a sound—a splash of water, birdsong, crackle of twigs or dry grass—I hope for a sighting of an animal—a trout, a blue jay, a crow, a grasshopper. When animals hear our omnipresent noise—engines whirring, tires squealing, horns honking—what do they hope for?

September 30

All the vegetation and leaves are more yellowing today, rustier—oxidized colors. There was a light drizzle all morning. My field notes are speckled with the occasional raindrop ink-stain. The Poudre River was measured at two feet high, higher than my last visit because it’s been raining up in the mountains, to the west.

Little white wildflowers upstream catch my eye. I walk over unsteady pebbles and a large cottonwood root to get to them. The root is far enough away from any trees that it’s impossible for me to tell to which it belongs. Each flower is in various stages of unfurling—some are fully open, dripping their petals into their watery reflections.

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As best as I can tell, the flower is Carolina Bugbane, or Trautvetteria Caroliniensis, which is native to this area

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Carolina Bugbane is in the Rananculaceae family, or the buttercup family, and seems to prefer wetter habitats

I find myself thinking how it would feel to live in a river that can get as low as one foot deep—to have distance infinitely available to you (seemingly), but know your explorations, your knowledge, were all limited to one foot by the width of the river by its length. I suppose human life, until the inventions of the airplane and rocket-ship, is fairly limited in that way as well—we’re basically stuck to the earth’s surface, most of us. This, I think, is the origin of the desire to fly, our envy of birds. We can’t see the earth’s rotund nature from our limited depth, the slice of air in which we live. We’ve had to escape this space to see the world for what it really is—a sphere remarkably like and unlike any other.

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