Enough

IMG_1537

“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.”

Advertisements

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of the #metoo movement, I’ve come across some interesting discussions about the role of forgiveness–whether it’s an outdated concept, what its utility even is, who gets to give and receive it.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

New Poem: “American Bison”

Bison rut, Lamar Valley

Photo by Yellowstone National Park

Hello, everyone! Long time no see. It’s been a little crazy here starting a new semester and a new job, but I promise I’ve been up to things. The lovely online poetry mag Muse /A Journal just came out with their gorgeous fifth issue, and my poem “American Bison” (hmmm, wonder what it could be about?) is up alongside some other stunning work.

Check out my new poem here!

Love to all.

New Mexico, Land of Enchantment, Land of Circles

New Mexico, Land of Enchantment, Land of Circles

After two and a half weeks in the high-altitude New Mexico desert sun, I confess my summer freckles have returned. I like to think of them as my skin’s seasonal blossoming. They’re little circular perennials, roots dug deep and hibernating all winter long, waiting for a warm week to reappear.

IMG_1433

Juniper in front of Abiquiú Lake

I stayed in Abiquiú, New Mexico, a rural town outside Santa Fe, in June to work as an instructional counselor for a creative writing class for gifted and talented high school students. Ghost Ranch is now a retreat center, made famous by the renowned artist Georgia O’Keeffe, who stayed there for many summers and eventually lived there full-time.

IMG_1456

Instructor and friend Natalie atop the overlook at Chimney Rock

This was my first time to New Mexico even though its entire northern border is most of Colorado’s southern border. The high desert there was overrun with crooked trees and low brush—juniper, sage, chamisa.

IMG_1390

Trail to Chimney Rock on Ghost Ranch, Cerro Pederal in the distance

At the welcome center for Bandelier National Monument I flipped through samples of dried and pressed plants, matching them to what I’d seen on our hike around the cave dwellings, their ruins. These amazing light brown sandstone cliffs full of holes and pockmarks, made hollow by centuries of erosion.

IMG_1634

Cliff dwellings at Bandelier National Monument

Circular structures ringed with stacked stones were built and called kivas by the Pueblo Native Americans who lived there. These buildings were used in rituals, especially coming-of-age ceremonies for young men wherein the structure functioned like a sweat lodge.

IMG_1637

More cliff dwellings at Bandelier National Monument

Bandelier National Monument is a dormant volcano featuring an enormous caldera, basically the collapsed crater-like center of a volcano since overgrown with grasses, shrubs, and thirsty western high-altitude trees like cottonwoods and aspen.

IMG_1618

Bandelier plant life

As our class stopped beneath some of the less accessible cliff dwellings (reached via a series of ladders) for lunch, we wrote in response to a prompt about rituals, and it occurred to me that the caldera could be seen as a sort of first kiva—the stone circle first laid by some ancient, powerful hand. This is what it looks like when the land forms circles—a collapse, an eruption, layers of volcanic ash pressed into earth, then sandstone.

IMG_1660

Blooming Cholla cactus at Bandelier National Monument

The town of Taos contains the Taos Pueblo, a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the longest continuously inhabited villages in North America. Here the Pueblo people built their multi-story homes out of adobe brick, which consists of clay, hay, and water.

IMG_1570

A typical adobe home at the Taos Pueblo site

Both the mortar and the plaster which covers the bricks are made of mud. Cedar logs were laid across each structure to help form and support their ceilings. These ceiling also functioned as the floor of the story atop it, accessed by wooden ladders.

IMG_1564

Red chiles as decoration at Taos Pueblo

Because of the materials of these structures, it is impossible to outfit them with modern plumbing and electricity. Our tour guide told me only five families remain as full-time residents here, though many more keep their ancestral homes while they live primarily in the town of Taos, or elsewhere on the reservation.

IMG_1544

A window at the Catholic church in Taos

While walking around Taos Pueblo, I saw a man setting up a table with a display of turquoise jewelry underneath a hay canopy in front of an adobe home. We chatted, and he invited me into the home he said had been the birthplace of his great-grandfather, and inhabited by his family many, many generations before that.

IMG_1555

The Rio Pueblo de Taos in the foreground, and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in the background

It was a simple, surprisingly cool single room with a small fireplace in one corner. He explained to me the technique by which the Pueblo people made the chimney. They took a cedar trunk and covered it with adobe plaster. Once dried, they then set the wood on fire, which would leave them with a hollow, cylindrical adobe structure. A circle of sky, open to sky.

IMG_1565

One of many art galleries in Taos Pueblo

IMG_1567

A close-up of the bison leather dreamcatcher

One night on a silent walk to Matrimonial Mesa at Ghost Ranch, I pointed out to the students the hoofprints of a deer in the mud. In a place that receives fewer than eight inches of rain a year, it had rained that afternoon. One student had spotted a garden snake who’d been coaxed out of the shadows by the cool rain. And the small, halved circles of the imprints of hooves wandering from the dirt road to the arroyo’s cottonwoods, weaving between chamisa and juniper.

IMG_1541

Desert daisies and pink sunsets on Ghost Ranch

On the mesa that night we watched the scattered, sputtering circles of stars come into being. We lay there quietly, listening to the high-pitched echoes of chirping bats as they drew their own looped circles in the air above. Kivas, nightly natural rituals. Circles in space and time. Each time we return to repeat the ritual, each time we circle back, something is different. We hold constant what we can, but we treasure everything.

IMG_1450

Looking west from Chimney Rock at Ghost Ranch

I live my life in widening circles
that reach out across the world.
I may not complete this last one
but I give myself to it.

I circle around God, around the primordial tower.
I’ve been circling for thousands of years
and I still don’t know: am I a falcon,
a storm, or a great song?

[from Rainer Maria Rilke’s Book of Hours, translated by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows]

IMG_1512

Sunset over Chimney Rock on Ghost Ranch

Georgia O’Keeffe painted Cerro Pedernal (Flint Mountain) over forty times. The story goes that she took any paintings with which she wasn’t satisfied, drove down the mesa, and burned their canvases right there in the desert. About Cerro Pedernal O’Keeffe said, “God told me if I painted it enough, I could have it.” She returned and returned. She ritualized the process.

Locals heard of her affinity for bones and brought them to her, bleached white by desert sun and preserved by desert air. She painted a series centered on a cow’s pelvis. There are circles here, too—the spaces for each leg, the ball of each femur joint, the socket space. She painted it so close up, sometimes, that you can’t tell what the curves are a part of at all, what the lighting reveals.

Circles form from gravity, from wear and falling and moving and the difficulty of moving. Everything softens over time, forgets its corners, collapses. The desert is a land of circles, the simplicity of curves, the complexity of a single eye.

A National Wound

HeartbreakAmerica

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.

Ode to Snow

fullsizerender_6

Brighton Ski Resort, Utah

Winter is a time for contemplation. Everything takes a little longer to do. Food must be warmed, layers must be compiled and worn, windshields and sidewalks must be scraped and shoveled of ice and snow.

Whether you are in the midst of knee-deep snow yourself or whether you only dream of it, I invite you to listen to my new snowy playlist on Spotify while indulging in some wintry reading (sources cited) and photography (all by me) below. Enjoy.

undinepark

Laramie, Wyoming

“Tonight as it gets cold
tell yourself
what you know which is nothing
but the tune your bones play
as you keep going. And you will be able
for once to lie down under the small fire
of winter stars.
And if it happens that you cannot
go on or turn back
and you find yourself
where you will be at the end,
tell yourself
in that final flowing of cold through your limbs
that you love what you are.” -From Mark Strand’s “Lines for Winter”

fullsizerender_3

Southern Wyoming

“I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently? And then it covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt; and perhaps it says, ‘Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again.'” -Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass

fullsizerender_4

American Fork, Utah

“Everything is flowing — going somewhere, animals and so-called lifeless rocks as well as water. Thus the snow flows fast or slow in grand beauty-making glaciers and avalanches… While the stars go streaming through space pulsed on and on forever like blood… in Nature’s warm heart.” -John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra 

fullsizerender_2

Steamboat Springs, Colorado

“One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land…” -From Wallace Stevens’s “The Snow Man”

fullsizerender_8

Centennial, Wyoming

“It snowed all week. Wheels and footsteps moved soundlessly on the street, as if the business of living continued secretly behind a pale but impenetrable curtain. In the falling quiet there was no sky or earth, only snow lifting in the wind, frosting the window glass, chilling the rooms, deadening and hushing the city.” -Truman Capote
fullsizerender_7

Steamboat Ski Resort, Colorado

“A few feathery flakes are scattered widely through the air, and hover downward with uncertain flight, now almost alighting on the earth, now whirled again aloft into remote regions of the atmosphere.” -Nathaniel Hawthorne
fullsizerender_9

Medicine Bow National Forest, Wyoming

Love and warm wishes to all from the wintry American West.