Finding the Solitude in Isolation

The two last lines of Mary Oliver’s poem, The Summer Day, are resounding within my soul right now:

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”

Those two lines taken out of context may conjure up images of the intense, singular pursuit of vast success and a grand life. 

In truth, though, this poem is about lying down in the grass and observing how a grasshopper behaves. More broadly, it’s about becoming absorbed in the details of the natural world to the state of wonder, reverence, and awe. 

That’s how I ended up here in Vermont. I wanted to embrace a life of simplicity and nature immersion like so many who have inspired me—Thoreau, Emerson, Mary Oliver, Wendell Berry, Sy Montgomery, etc—and learn from that experience. 

I’m an idealist—and an industrious one at that— so I am constantly trying to reach Polaris as an actual destination rather than using it as a point of reference. Suffice it to say, the learning part of life is what I always underestimate. When I imagine an arduous journey of any kind, I really use my mental Hollywood effects. I edit the images in my mind as a montage with some poignant music—gathering eggs from hens, painting barns, tapping maple trees in spring (Beta Radio, Gregory Alan Isakov, Reed Foehl)—and I have sold myself on the end experience: happiness. 

The actual truth is, when you’re living the learning, it’s painful at times. And happiness isn’t an end result. Happiness is a by product of a life well-lived. And a life well-lived takes a lot of work. And the work isn’t always gathering eggs or tapping maple trees. Sometimes it’s internal work like facing down the mundane and deciding what to do with it or acknowledging what keeps you from inner peace when all else is quiet. 

In this regard, I had a little advance study session on this whole self-isolation thing that we’ve all been plunged into recently. It was called “February in Vermont.” It’s a private study group that meets in peoples minds all over the state, individually, for weeks at a time. 

So back in early February, I decided, for extra credit, to set aside a solid week where I focused entirely on leaning into this uncomfortable experience of feeling isolated. I wanted to listen to what it was inside of me that kept avoiding the stillness. Why did the cold, damp February sky weigh on my soul so heavily? Why couldn’t I allow myself to just settle down and connect with what and who was around me? 

After a week of waking early to mediate, running daily without any music or distractions, eating only minimal amounts of clean foods, avoiding screen time, journaling, and letting myself acknowledge what I felt— I got my answers.

For me, isolation and a lack of regular, positive human interaction can make me question my worth–sometimes the existential purpose in general. It makes me question the finitude of my own life and grieve all that will never be. When I feel disconnected, it is because I feel restless and I want to dream up new adventures, pursuits, life paths, and ambitions. When I feel isolated, I really want to believe that there is a place I can go, or an experience I can have, someTHING that I can eat, buy, or drink to feel better. All of those things experiences are great in their own right, but when I’m using them to avoid facing my fears, they’re each just one more way to run away from myself. It’s what I do when I want the happiness without the work that creates a life well-lived.

My nigh unbearable urge to escape the discomfort of feeling isolated—and for me, that means ultimately afraid that life is meaningless— is because there is a real need there— to feel a sense of belonging and connectedness to something bigger than myself. 

I’m not saying that it’s bad to have other humans help us meet that need for connection—for sure that’s vital to our health! But we can not always rely on others for that connection back to ourselves.

Health and wellness are built on something that we experience and build when we are alone in our thoughts, our feelings, and our own internal worlds. When it’s quiet and we are alone, it’s best if we can acknowledge how we are doing and sit with it without immediately trying to escape into some distraction. Having a life that isn’t so full with activities and people can feel like it leaves too much time to be alone in our thoughts. Can we find a way to be at peace within ourselves when there is no easy distraction? That’s something that sometimes takes the kind of work that doesn’t always make it into my musical montage. 

Usually, our current global world with instant everything doesn’t force us into this discomfort very often. We can instantly be entertained, distracted, and consume whatever we want usually within minutes if not seconds. This whole lock-down and virus has forced us—even those of us who are fortunate enough to be somewhat removed from the devastation of the sickness itself—into an uncomfortable position where we are more limited than we have become accustomed to being. 

I have learned that limitation in healthy doses can be conducive to personal growth. I used to think that infinite possibility was glamorous and ideal. I’ve changed my mind. When our focus is too much on reaching outward while not wanting to sacrifice opportunity, we forget sometimes to care for what and who is right around us. And that begins with ourselves. We are each worth working to know better, love better, and help grow.

Emerson said it well, 

“Give this person the inner work of his intellect, and he will be happier than the richest person.”

Developing our own minds and selves (which I view as a holistic sense of consciousness in a spiritual sense too) allows us to live a richer life even when we are unable to have that wonderful, social connection that we want when we want it. Accepting ourselves, acknowledging our inner being that needs attention—it’s important. 

So, where do I turn when I’m alone and I need meaningful connection back to myself and what is around me? Personally, I turn to nature. That is where I find meaning, wisdom, and hard-bought peace of mind. Being immersed in our natural world reminds me that I am part of something much bigger than myself. If I can’t get outside, I really need art—poetry, literature, music—the work and inspiration of others who have had insights through their own personal journeys and share them as a piece of the great map towards consciousness and enlightenment. Then I need time to process my own internal synthesis of my experiences in nature and art. I like to journal, play the piano, and work through ideas and concepts. 

I believe that spirituality is a sacred, intuitive element of human nature. The desire to find and create meaning in this world is as hard-wired as hunger and thirst. I think that when we allow ourselves to sink down to that place of quiet, stillness, and solitude—sometimes it can be scary at first. We may find that we are with a hyperventilating, fragmented part of ourselves. But I’ve learned that when we listen to what that part of ourselves has to say, and we sit with whatever that is…eventually we see that we can help ourselves to endure hard things. That wave of panic or boredom or whatever it is crashes over us and the recedes. Comfort comes. Insight comes. Growth happens. And then, when we step back out into society we will hopefully be stronger and wiser having been through this pandemic. But even now, we always have a choice about how we will engage with our life.

So, do tell–what will you do with your one, wild and precious life?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 17 Comments

finding transcendence in every day life

We’ve now lived through three seasons of life here on 64 acres atop a mountain in Vermont. Nature is pervasive here—the sounds, fragrances, sights, and sensations we experience are all from the forest, the pond, the creek, or the animals and plants that inhabit them. This nature-immersion has been transformative for all of us, and I’ll write some about my own experience here. 

This nature-based lifestyle has been a big exhale for me, and a meditative return to being present with what is. Prior to moving, the idea of being present with what is, surrounded by nature with very little cultural distractions was simultaneously terrifying and luring. I knew I’d have to face some of the older, deeper psychological and spiritual work I had set aside when I moved back to LA to take a break from the heaviness and intensity that can sometimes come with the process of being me.

Working in the garden, planting trees, caring for animals, and living through winter, spring, and summer has shown me that I can simply be. The cycles of nature continue on ever forward in magnificence regardless of my internal state. I don’t need faith to believe that. I witness it daily. This has been good and therapeutic.

At the start of summer, I didn’t have enough faith to plant our garden. You take this tiny seed and bury it in the dirt. This seems preposterous. You don’t bury important things, usually. And something that tiny? Forget about it. I don’t like wasting my time on ridiculous things. So, I sat there and watched Collin plant the garden while I talked about how I wasn’t sure this Vermont life was really working out for me. 

After a few days, tiny sprouts appeared. That was encouraging enough that I figured I may as well water those tiny little green things. They looked so excited to be there, speckling the brown dirt with their tiny green lives. I didn’t want to hurt their feelings, but they were very small. I didn’t see how this was ever going to amount to much. Nevertheless, it became part of our daily ritual to water the plants after we had let the chickens and bunnies out in the barnyard. 

So, as time went on, day after day, we’d water these hopeful sprouts, pull up weeds, and slowly witness their growth. 

I would not have believed it except that I watched it happen with my own eyes. Little by little these sprouts became carrots, broccoli, lettuce, kale, pumpkins, cucumbers, squash, and zucchini. We ate whole dinners comprised mainly of food from that garden. We continued to pull the weeds and fed them to the chickens who were starting to lay eggs. 

The stems and leftover food that we didn’t eat kept going into “the compost bin” as Collin called it. I was pretty sure that was just disgusting new kind of trash can specifically for food scraps, but it seemed to make Collin feel resourceful. So I continued putting all of our food scraps in there. Again, I had very little hope and zero faith in this process. 

Then one day he took me out to where he had been periodically dumping the bin and turning it all year, and it was actually the richest, brownest, and earthiest dirt I’ve ever seen. Again, I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes. There was no trace of peels or rinds or stems or egg shells. What once was all that refuse and garbage was now rich, beautiful earth ready to provide nutrients to next year’s garden. We continued to tend to the garden and eventually those tiny sprouts I didn’t even have enough hope to plant nourished us throughout the entire summer. 

I had a similar experience witnessing the seasons. I had a difficult time believing that it would actually be wintry as we were moving here. When we drove away from Topanga last November, we were leaving 80 degree sunshine days. Our skin was sun-kissed, and our feet were bare. We had sand from the beach in our car and throughout the bottom of my purse. Within 5 days of arriving to Vermont, we needed our snow gear. By February, I was a full believer in snow. It was what we had known for three and a half months by then and what we would continue to know for at least another month and a half. 

By March it was difficult to believe spring would actually come. I found it hard to believe that all the trees would be full of life and green leaves again. Winter is deep and far reaching here, and it leaves naked branches, frozen ground, and very little color in the woods. By April, when the sky was overcast for days, I thought that this winter must have finally broken spring. There would be no more color. There would be no more blue sky or sunshine days. How could there ever be warmth again when all felt damp and cold for so long? 

And then, one day in early May, when all hope of anything green or good seemed lost, there were buds on the magnolia tree. Blossoms are miraculous. When the green returns to the grass and the leaves on the trees really do reappear, it seems like life is overcoming all odds. It all seems so impossible and ridiculous and crazy—like even though it happened once before, it could never happen again.

So, I think I’ll stay here a while longer just to see what happens. Just to see if indeed the leaves really will all turn different colors this autumn. Just to see if this compost we made really will prepare the soil for next year’s garden. Just to see if the ground really will frost again. I want to be here to see if the pond will freeze solid again so that what was our swimming hole all summer becomes our ice skating rink once more. It seems impossible. Good thing nature doesn’t rely on my faith to keep performing her miracles. 

“To find the universal elements enough; to find the air and the water exhilarating; to be refreshed by a morning walk or an evening saunter…to be thrilled by the stars at night; to be elated over a bird’s nest or a wildflower in spring — these are some of the rewards of the simple life.”  —John Burrough

Zuri really embodies the transcendence in every day life.
Posted in Uncategorized | 13 Comments

Vermont Life

It’s time for a new installment of our Vermont life update! 

We have had many experiences here in Vermont that have been rewarding and required a lot of work, growth, and a sense of humor. Even just from when we moved into our new house and realized that the woodland creatures had been squatting there for 8 years. And being vegetarians who try to never take the life of an animal if possible, we rescued many a mouse in those early winter days. “Toilet Mouse” will go down in history as an important one. His namesake is telling—he was bobbing up and down, treading water in the toilet bowl with the cats prowling around waiting for him to jump out. So naturally, we warmed him up and gave him cheese and waited until he was fluffy and spunky again. And then we drove him off to an abandoned cabin where we relocate all our furry visitors (with a care package of the finest Vermont cheese).

Reviving a mouse that was so weak he couldn’t move when I found him trapped in the bottom of a trash can.

When people find out that we moved to Vermont from Los Angeles, many ask what inspired such a big move. I wonder that too, sometimes. It was a huge, drastic move and rather sudden from decision to implementation (2 months). Moving from a west coast city to rural New England is quite the cultural and natural switcheroo. But, there were a lot of things big and small that all motivated me to want to try this dream. It’s one that we’ve had for a while—to be stewards of a big piece of beautiful earth with streams and woods (the pond is a huge surprise bonus) where our kids and Zuri can easily go explore from our doorstep. I didn’t want to just dream it anymore; I wanted to see what it would really be like.

And that brings me to this: the reality of a dream is very different than the idea of a dream.

Imagining Vermont life while talking to your friends on a beach in Santa Monica is different than living Vermont life in actual Vermont where many days our only friends around are birds and trees and other various non-humans. It’s different in both impossible-to-imagine better ways and impossible-to-imagine more difficult ways. 

We did soak up some time with friends, family, and sunshine in LA for two weeks in April, though.

Another reflection I have to offer is this: winter in Vermont is breathtakingly beautiful. The various kinds of snow and the deep, blue sky the day after a snow storm were some of the awe inspiring surprises I didn’t expect. It’s really fulfilling to be surrounded by that kind of dramatic beauty. The woods are hushed during and after a fresh, thick snow. It’s a sacred kind of quiet that I had forgotten. Plus, ice skating on the pond in the early winter (when it was nice and glassy smooth) was an actual dream come true. 

Winter sunrises are exceptional.

Heating our house with firewood was a large amount of work for Collin. We all helped when we could, but Collin took on the large majority of that work this year. The scouting out good trees, felling them with the chain saw, cutting them into logs, splitting them with an axe, and then keeping the fire going—it was a HUGE thing. So, this is a big shout out to him for keeping us warm all winter. We were warm and also got to enjoy the beauty and aesthetics of a crackling fire while we read Lord of the Rings all winter. We baked fresh bread most days (Senya took a real interest in making her own bread after enough collaborative practice), and the coziness factor inside the home was at an all time high.

Is there any felicity in the world superior to freshly baked bread?

One of my favorite experiences here so far was the sugaring season and the process of making maple syrup from the maple sap we collected in our woods. We ended up with a little more than 4 gallons of the most delicious maple syrup that I’ve ever had. Some of our dear friends came out from California and got to begin this process with us. It was really special and fun to have them here to identify the trees, drill the holds, set up the buckets and lines, and make the initial batch of syrup. 

The intensity of the sap run really began a few weeks later and lasted about two solid weeks for us.

The moment our first batch hit 219 degrees (syrup).

I posted a picture of our maple syrup bounty after our intense two-week sugaring season, and I got so many encouraging and supportive “high-five!!” type comments. Some people even asked if they could buy some! And while I honestly have several internal organs I’d be quicker to sell than a pint of this syrup, the kindness and enthusiasm wasn’t lost on me. We just had a small bucket operation this year which means that I was hauling like 40 pounds of sap in buckets from one part of our 64 acre property to another REALLY far away (it always seemed) part of our property. 

And when you think of that, you may feel an empathic twinge in your forearms or biceps like—“whew! That takes some muscle!” But what you might not realize is that it takes a lot of patience, too. You can’t walk very quickly, you see, or the heavy buckets slam against the sides of your legs as you carry them. Also, it splashes out if you become a little too sloppy or quick with your pace. 

So, it’s like a meditation of sorts (intermittently spliced with some expletives when I’d spill or trip) to carry each bucket far across the land to the holding tank. Collin happened to be away for work during the height of the sap run, so I filled our 65 gallon holding tank so he could evaporate it when he returned. I just couldn’t bear to see the sap buckets overflow knowing that it could all be transformed into one of the most sensational food experiences with a bit of hard work. One morning, after a fresh 15 inches of snow, I tried to save myself some heavy lifting and put 20 gallons of sap in buckets on a sled. As I tugged it to begin, the buckets fell over and spilled about 10 gallons of sap. ****ing physics, right? I need to work on my meditation skills for moments like that (and brush up on my laws of motion, too).

So yes. Here we are in rural Vermont living our dream. And sometimes it is laughably difficult. And I’m like “Why? Why was falling on the ice when you’re trying to take the trash out down your extremely long and steep driveway YOUR DREAM, LINDSAY??? Living 8 minutes from the beach was a pretty good dream!!!!” 

Juniper drinking fresh sap.

Other times it’s difficult in ways that aren’t laughable. They’re just downright hard in ways that didn’t exist in Los Angeles—like there are moments when I’m literally ready to put a “For Sale” sign in the yard (that no one would see because we live a mile up a mountain, but still). 

My mom stayed for a week while Collin was away during mud season.

And yet, it is so poignantly, beautiful to live this life that I cry and I squeeze Collin’s hand as we are walking through our gorgeous woods of paper birch, beech, pine, and sugar maples for sheer overwhelm at the sacredness of this experience. 

Some of these warm spring days I realize our home is quiet, and I can’t find the kids until I spot them up on a hill in the woods or see them running through the verdant, grassy yard surrounding the pond. Often, I watch my good, old Zuri dog sit by the stream in quiet, perfect happiness living her best, senior dog life. The other night after we had moved the chickens to the barn, started our vegetable garden plants inside,  and planted fruit trees oustide, Juniper said “You know, little by little, I think we are kind of making a farm here.” And I watch the joy spread on her face like the sunrise fills the dawn sky as the realization of how HER dreams are coming into reality occurs to her. And lately, I am filled with deep content and gratitude when Senya and her “neighbor” friend (who lives a half mile away through the woods and over the mountain) come running back down our mountain together holding hands, laughing and barrelling down the steep slope excited to build outdoor aquariums for the newts and frogs, make flower and weed potions, or build forts in the woods. 

The full range of emotions are awakened this year as we all keep our hearts open to all that life has to teach us in this adventure. It isn’t an instant IV drip of happiness. There is a reason that the phrase “Vermont Strong” exists here (and I wouldn’t claim that I am that, yet). But it surely is meaningful, and I will always remember this first winter and spring in Vermont. 

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Mind the Gap: Existential Anxiety

It all goes back to when everything was a singularity—when all the matter that existed was on top of itself and time didn’t yet exist. I mean, that’s really backing up a lot, but really, I do think it starts there. I like to think of this as the time when collective consciousness was as infinite in its own density as all physical matter was. Everything was one. Then, the universe exploded into existence and then all the laws of physics as we now know them arose and here we are—separate, individuated in our own experiences. 

We experience life in separate bodies and minds and it can be very unsettling. It becomes especially unsettling when we become acutely aware of it. Once we realize there is an “I” we also realize that our consciousness is separate from our bodies. We also realize that our consciousness is individuated from everything else. There is a gap—a lack—a space that keeps us from being entirely integrated. It also keeps us from entirely connecting to all that is not “I”. I think that this self-awareness and individuation is the source of our existential anxiety. 

Once this awareness of the gap arises in us, we can either deny it or accept it. If we try to deny it, we are most likely trying to distract ourselves from thinking too much, feeling too much, or being quiet for long enough that we sense it. Distraction usually looks like avoidant behaviors that disconnect us more from ourselves and others, though they tempt us with the hope of escape. If we accept that there is this gap between our consciousness and existence, we can own that chase for wholeness and integration. And this is different than the chase owning us. This can mean that we embrace the reality of that gap and find ways to connect back to wholeness.

I think noticing when we feel this gap and when we feel detached from wholeness makes all the difference. The irony is, it is a universal human experience to feel that way. Sometimes just realizing that it’s part of being human can tie us back into the feeling of being connected to more than ourselves. 

Also, once we’ve noticed that we sense this gap, we can decide how we want to chase wholeness. When we do the things that connect us back to our sense of vitality, I believe we temporarily fuse that gap. We all know feeling when we achieve flow and that feeling when we lose track of time and ourselves—that is when I think we temporarily bond back to more in the Universe than just our small self and forget that we exist separately. We become integrated. We forget our self, and we become part of a bigger flow of energy. Spirituality, love, sex, music, art, poetry, comedy, adventure, theatre, sports, dance, chivalry, social justice—these are all good things that are born from that chase to fill the gap. 

What we choose to do with this gap is up to us. But the fact that it is there is the consequence of having a separate consciousness. And the universe is still expanding. So, it’s going to be a long time before it collapses again and returns to a singularity. 

At different points in life we become more or less acutely aware of the gap between our existence and our ability to reflect on it. I remember the first time I became aware of my own consciousness and existence. I was 6 and in first grade. I was walking to get a piece of candy from my teacher for getting a 99% on my spelling test, and I had the thought “I am in this body, and I exist.” And I almost fainted entirely, but came to when I fell into a desk. 

After that initial realization, a lot of us are able to normalize our finitude and our separate-ness and we just go back to a state of childhood. We get swept up in the early part of life with all the firsts and novelty of discovering life. Then we get into adolescence and early adulthood and we revisit these existential questions. Then maybe we hit another groove in the upswing of figuring out who we are, living and chasing dreams, and building the life we want. Then we hit midlife, and there it is again and with the special twist that we are noticeably aging. The finitude of our mortal life becomes a reality. I think the anxiety and grief caused by this gap and awareness of it is more or less acute at different points in the timeline of our lifespan. That’s another thing that didn’t exist when everything was a singularity: time. 

I’ve decided to accept that this gap is part of the human condition and make my peace with it. Sometimes it’s extremely uncomfortable, and I feel my soul squirming and seeking resolve. If the universe hadn’t exploded into existence and we hadn’t all individuated, we wouldn’t have this existential separation anxiety. This gap may be the source of gnawing existential angst, and it may cause us to feel detached from our life without realizing why. Existential angst can present emotional and psychological challenges for humans and make life emotionally complex. 


The unique challenge of being a self-aware and individuated human and the journey back and forth between those moments of wholeness and integration—it’s what allows us to be painters, writers, comedians, dancers, therapists, gardeners, creators, adventurers, revolutionaries, philosophers, logicians, lovers…the best of what humanity can be. It’s what allows us to rise above mere instinct and biology and become closer to who and what our ideals are. It’s what allows us to give our stories, describe our experience, and share with one another. That gap is where the gems of creativity and inspiration are formed. And when we mine that gap in our souls for meaning and for art, for love and beauty, for courage and just action, for poetry and story— we give ourselves and each other glimpses of wholeness and perfection. 

Conclusion: Mind the gap. Embrace its reality. Learn how to harness the angst. Learn how to connect meaningfully to more than yourself—others, nature, transcendent experiences. 

Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Comments

A Place to Call Home (part II)

I went out walking in the woods today in the rain. I felt like the main character of a fairy tale. My heart was bursting with wonder and curiosity. After living in a Mediterranean climate that has been in an decade+ drought, I am in awe. I can’t help but marvel at the bubbling streams that meander all along the land and the waterfalls that cascade down moss-draped marble cliffs. The crystal clear pond is surrounded by a verdant green carpet of grass. I discovered a sacred symbol etched into a rock slab. Everywhere I walk or stand, I can feel the amazing vitality of this place.

It’s very different than the dramatic beauty of the west coast that I came to love—where the towering cliffs and mountains meet the sparkling, blue sea. When I moved there, that was exactly what my soul needed. Space. Expanse. Dramatic beauty that made my questions and internal struggles feel small in comparison. I craved anonymity amongst the 20 million people there. I took comfort in the likelihood that within that high population, there would be at least a handful of likeminded souls. There, I felt as though I was a small speck witnessing the grandeur of something vast. It was difficult for me to imagine the transition back to this very different kind of ecosystem. Yet my heart kept feeling tugged back to the woods, the streams, the rich, dark earth, and a place where flourishing life is sustainable.

We looked at many beautiful houses and amazing properties through the years, but none of them ever felt right. Some of them seemed so perfect on paper and logically they met the criteria we had, and I felt crazy with dissonance when my heart wouldn’t allow me to go through with it.

But then once I stepped foot onto this land, the natural beauty felt so personal, it captured my heart in a different way. It felt like we were meant for each other, this place and me. It’s a relational kind of experience to be here among these moss-covered boulders, crystal clear streams with pebbly beds, the rolling hills, the towering oaks and magnificent paper birch trees. The willows that grow right at the edge of the pond, the plum trees and berry bushes that are generous with their fruit in the summer, the fact that the power lines are all buried underground so there’s no buzz or sight of them from our home—these are all such meaningful details to me. The wooden and stone walkways and spots for meditation designed by the Buddhists who originally built this place as their retreat center all feel exactly perfect.

With the Taconic mountains in the distance as our backdrop, I am ever aware of nature’s grandeur, but I live presently within the more intimate context of my own, microcosm of wonder. It inspires me to greet each tree and boulder as if it’s a friend, and in my heart I do. I’ve dreamed of this space for so long, and every detail—even ones I didn’t consciously know I hoped for—are realized here.

Each of these past 4 mornings when I’ve woken up and looked out my window, I’ve been surprised with humble gratitude that this is my home. It is the kind of magical place that is alive and has its own soul. The other night my uncles had us over to dinner to welcome us to Vermont. They have lived in and loved many sacred places through the years, and they shared with me some wisdom that resonated deeply, “we never own these sacred places; we are merely their keepers for a time.”

And for this time we’ve been granted, I’m grateful.

When I was first thinking of leaving Topanga, California, to move here, I was afraid that I’d feel disconnected and isolated. Though we lived in a small mountain town where I could hike for miles with barely a soul passing me as I walked, our house was situated right between two roads. One road was only somewhat busy, but the other was traveled by 30,000 cars a day. And while that was unpleasant in terms of noise pollution, I never felt too remote or isolated.

Here, the long gravel road leading to our residence leads to home for only a few. Our closest neighbor is a half a mile down, so we don’t hear or see any other cars unless we go at least that distance.

To my surprise and relief, though, I don’t feel isolated. I feel more connected to my own life than I’ve ever felt because of this magical place. I’m also then able to really connect with the vitality of the nature surrounding me per se. And it feels so real—so accessibly nourishing—to my soul. I feel that paying attention to what’s around us here makes me aware of how genius this world is. The plants, the patterns, the cycles, the balance—there’s so much to absorb with awe.

Being here provides endless opportunities for learning. Senya and Juniper must feel inspired too; they’re either playing outside, and reveling in all this land and water to interact with, or they’re in our workshop area making things. They seem to have been caught up in a current of creativity. I won’t hear from them for an hour, so I’ll go to check on them and they’re quietly lost in the flow of making—making paintings, sculptures, drawings, little boats to float in the pond and down the stream—all sorts of things.

And so far, the families that we’ve met through our WiSe Forest School have welcomed us and included us right into their tribe here. We had our first lantern walk/potluck last night and got to know lots of our neighbors (‘neighbors’ means they live anywhere within a 20 minute drive, I think). We talked with people about their lives, and they asked us all about our story and how we came to Pawlet. They’re an inspiring bunch of people who all share the value of living sustainably within the land, making all sorts of artisan things, caring for the earth, caring for their families, and enjoying this beautiful life we all have.

I miss our dear people in California, but I find comfort and a sense of closeness in my heart knowing that they will love it here when they come visit. I have a dream of developing this back into a place for family retreats, and I’m hoping that my friends from Los Angeles who want to experience this life (but can’t or wouldn’t want to do that full-time) can have a place to come for a few weeks each year to engage with this magical place.

But for now, it’s a beautiful place to call home, and we are grateful for all the wonder and beauty that so tangibly surrounds us here.

Posted in family, forest school, homeschool, personal reflection, unschool, vermont | 19 Comments

Transcendent Love

Continuing the chronicles of my spiritual journey…

Last August, I took a course that I absolutely loved. It was an introduction to a contemplative educational philosophy, and it required a lot of inner work and reflection. At the center of the philosophy, the core goal is vitality. According to this philosophy, connection to one’s own sense of core vitality (that transcendent feeling when we are plugged into a Life source that is in us and everything else) is the ultimate goal of life.

It’s a worthy goal, to be sure. And yet something in me felt unsettled. And so in class, when we are discussing what the ultimate goal for our children is, I proposed that my ultimate goal for Senya and Juniper is to truly know, believe, and experience that they are Loved. My instructor asked me why this is important, and I fumbled for something to say, but it was mumble jumble from what I recall.

And so, I started asking the Universe, “why is this important to me? Why do I get so sad if I think that Love isn’t that core vitality?” That made me want to crawl into bed and not get out, honestly. To think that our own experience is the end-all, be-all really bums me out. Why? I haven’t considered myself a Christian for quite some years now because I didn’t want to meet the qualifications (I wrote about this in my last post). But, yet, when asked to part with this idea of Love being the ultimate core goal of life (and Life itself) I couldn’t quite do it. Was I merely being sentimental? Or is this one of the remnants from my Christian faith that I truly believe and experientially know to be true?

And so, as is often the case, the Universe sent me a lovely lesson in why Love is so important. It came wrapped up in a package of someone coming into my life—my inner circle of friends— who was very difficult for me to love. What a lovely, gift! Ha.

Within months, I was convinced this person was unsafe emotionally, and I had a few diagonoses in mind for why they were so difficult. Certainly, it wasn’t my problem! I mean, just look around; everyone else likes me. When I see myself through that person’s eyes, or that person’s, I get to keep my likeable self-image. But when I see myself through this person’s eyes, I feel inadquate, unimportant, and unlikeable.

So, what I was experiencing was an ego problem, but I didn’t know that then.

A lot of people call the kind of work having to do with confronting and then letting go of our ego, shadow work. The thing about shadow work is that it is often embarrassing. It is the kind of inner work that requires one to come face to face with the ugliness, short comings, and flaws that we so often like to overlook.

This past year my heart went to an ugly place, but I didn’t recognize it as that for quite some time. I named the place of resentment, distrust, and blame “intuition, justice, and accountability.” If I had taken a step back long enough to objectively examine my life, I would have been able to recognize a few telling signs that I was living out of synch with my core vitality (aka, that sacred birthright connection to Love was experiencing some major interference).

When I’m connected to my core vitality, and I experience daily stressors (big feelings off-loaded by my children) or major life stressors (our house went back on the market which puts us in a tenuous state of housing insecurity), I cope by running in the mountains, writing out my thoughts, eating well and sleeping adequately, and making time for mediation or reflection.

When I’m disconnected from my core vitality, I cope with the daily and major stresses of life by drinking alcohol more frequently and as a means to relieve stress and eating less healthy foods as a means of instant gratification.

Now, the former types of stress-coping requires that I actually stay conscious. The latter is actually the opposite. It is an instant easy button to dull my consciousness so that I can take a mini vacation from my own self, basically.

The trouble is this latter form of stress coping catches up with me sooner or later. Because I’m not actually processing through anything on a physiological level (actually sweating out some of those stress hormones) or cognitively (thinking through things to gain some perspective) or emotionally (staying in the feelings long enough to actually move through them) or spiritually (connecting with a sense of Meaning greater than just me and finding guidance or meditating and noticing the intrusive thoughts and what their themes are), it’s all just festering– fermenting–if you will.

But I wasn’t willing or wanting to look objectively at my own flaws. Because, yuck. That feels bad. And unless you are SURE you are loved unconditionally, then it really feels threatening to the point of annihilation to look honestly into the face of our own ugliness.

So, I tried to explain and argue and logically justify all my ugliness. Blaming the other person and finding fault in them is so much easier because then we don’t have to admit that we have gone way off course. Then we can still stay confident that we are on the right path. And of course, my path is Love, so all this in the name of Love.

And that’s where I became stuck. Anger to the point of villainizing someone, resentment to the point of devaluing them, and distrust to the point of suspicion about their behvaior…that doesn’t sound like love. “Okay,” I’d argue with myself, “but maybe then it’s justice. I mean, just listen to this list of things this person did that hurt my feelings!” “Hmmm, justice without love, is that what you believe in? Let’s look throughout history and see what good ever came of that? Or how about right now in society? Justice without love is often the gateway to atrocities.” “UGHHHHHH. Take a hike, conscience.”

But once my conscience has spoken, however quietly amidst the louder voices of my ego, it’s not long before I have to listen if I want any peace at all. In my dreams, in my thoughts, it starts to leak into my psyche. That fermenting mass of emotion starts to bubble up into every bit of my mind. It seems all of life reminds me of this conflict, this situation, this problem. And I can’t find resolution. And I want to be present with my kids, but instead I’m 3 miles deep in a cave of unresolved ill will and negative feelings.

So, then, it’s time to face the mirror. The True Mirror. The one that when you close the door, close your eyes, and fold in half on the floor in absolute fatigue from constantly avoiding it…is reflecting you honestly. You see your flaws, you see your ugly thoughts and actions, you see your pathetic attempts at trying to defend your ego and appeal to moral high ground while sinking lower into the abyss of self pity and resentment. Ugh. Not pleasant.

But wait a minute, that is not the end of the story. There is something else here, reflecting back at me. There is Love. There is that mystery that I was wondering about 9 months prior—this is why Love is so important to me. It’s the beginning and the end, and it’s what saves me in the midst of my own ego. Exactly as I am, there is Love here for me. There was still Love for me even when I was avoiding this mirror, drinking and eating those potato chips at midnight for weeks on end. There is an overwhelming stream of love carrying me, reminding me that I’m one drop of water, and it’s time to rejoin the sea. And so I do.

And now, there is one more thing my conscience asks me to do, and that is to apologize to the person toward whom I’ve harbored so much ill will. Here is another reason that Love is so important to me; it guides me. And so I do, now not needing anything in return. Knowing that I’m responsible for my own feelings, actions, and self and that regaining that connection to Love is all I need to humble myself and admit that I went off course. I didn’t need to apologize to earn Love; Love is self existing in it’s own right. Love can not be earned and can not be lost. Our connection to Love, however, can sometimes experience some interference. And restoring that connection is always possible, but it sometimes requires action.

I go for a walk with a friend in the mountains one day after all this, and I tell her that my eating and drinking habits have sucked for the past few months. And she suggests that I get a mindless hobby and also limit drinking to weekends only. So, I take this advice, and buy a pair of roller skates and only drink on the weekends, start running again, and life started feeling even better than ever.

All of this is tied to our quest for a physical home, to be sure. And the revelation that I had in the midst of trying to relocate was that home begins within us. And I had to get that home repaired first and foremost.

Anyway, here’s the crux of what I learned:

Transcendent Love is something that can not be earned and can not be lost. When we genuinely accept that the core of our vitality, the right to belong, to be loved, to connect meaningfully with Life itself (here some would interchange Life with God) is our sacred birthright, then we can exhale. We can let down our defenses and move beyond the impulse to self-preserve.

Our connection to Love and Life can be badly obscured (there are plenty of examples in our own lives and society at large), but going three miles deep into a dark cave does not mean the sun itself is gone. It’s still shining outside, there for you when you emerge.

Posted in behavior change, faith, family, religion, spirituality | 7 Comments

Woodstock, Vermont: a place for us to call “home”

“Home is both the beginning and the end. Home is not a sentimental concept at all, but an inner compass and a North Star at the same time. It is a metaphor for the soul.”

—Richard Rohr

We are moving to Vermont!!! Yes, that’s right! After 7 years of being semi-nomadic and moving every few years we are putting down some roots. And the roots that we plan to put down are both metaphorical and actual. We are buying a log cabin (that’s right, evidently we’re coming full circle to the type of home we first owned together and inhabited quite happily for the better part of 5 years) on 14 acres in central Vermont. We’ll be 7 rural minutes away (meaning we will live off a dirt road with a long driveway) from the quaint town of Woodstock.

The actual roots we hope to put down are lovely ones such as those that belong to my favorite tree, the Weeping Willow (we plan to plant one by the pond), Montmorency Cherry, Honeycrisp Apple, the lovely (and yet obscure these days due to an unfortunate blight) American Elm, and perhaps a few more. But definitely those. ( is an amazing site that tells you based on your zipcode which trees and plants are a perfect match for your agricultural zone.)

We also plan to have a vegetable garden, maybe some berry bushes, and some herbs in either a hoop house or a cold frame.

Now, this may not won’t all happen the first month that we live there. AND, if when it doesn’t, then it’s probably going to be at least a year because the growing season is SHORT there. The winters are intense. Like a kind of intense that I know I am going to laugh-cry about at times. But honestly, those autumns are matchless. And, oh, to hear frogs from my own yard in the spring and summer. And to see lightning bugs again (my kids never have!!). And to experience that enthusiasm of the first real snow. And then to experience that intense almost breaking point of despair when it’s STILL snowing in March. But digging deep, and going outside anyway for a while because there’s no bad weather, just inadequate gear. And then you come inside and sit by the fire with a book and some hot chocolate glad that you got out for a hardy 25 minutes. And all of this, I’m actually receiving into my heart and soul with wide, openness.

I’m definitely not moving because I think life will be easier there. And I am also definitely not moving because I think it will be less expensive to live there. I just read a whole blog post about Vermonters who did a similar thing. Even though they moved from one of the more expensive cities in the US, they learned that home and land ownership cost more up front for the first few years.

And we aren’t even doing this because we think we will be happier or that this is an altogether better choice. Ruth Chang helped me a lot with that in terms of making difficult choices and how there is no clear best or better choice which is what, by definition, make a difficult choice, difficult. (

So that may beg the question then why are we moving our happy, little family from mild and sunny Los Angeles to a rural Vermont?

1) One reason is: because we can! We are in the unique position where Collin can work remotely, so we aren’t tied to the job market there. In the past, Collin and I dreamed about having land and living somewhere simply beautiful. I’d look on regularly and so would he. But our dilemma always seemed to be: once we move there, how do we get jobs and afford it? A great, huge thank you to Collin’s amazing company, Pure Charity, and to the globalization that current technology affords—this is no longer a conundrum. 

In terms of the kids and me: I homeschool the kids, but the schools in Woodstock are phenomenal too, so we are set either way. Either we homeschool and make our life about planting gardens, building tree forts, studying the local ecology, etc or they go to a great school in a small town. We are planning on the former, but we aren’t locking ourselves into that being necessary. However, we did only research towns/areas with healthy homeschooling communities.

2) Our 7 year journey away from our original home has taught us some key elements that we need to be healthy. Along the way we’ve been able to determine what some of our core psychological, emotional, social, spiritual, and physical needs are. A few of them are: We need enough money to not be so financially strained that we are stressed out in every other area of life. We need a healthy and positive community, and for us that means socially progressive and a general sense of shared values (i.e., Vermont’s Billboard Law outlaws roadside ads specifically so that the beauty of the Green Mountains isn’t tainted with commercialism). We need meaningful relationships too, apart from a sense of community. And, while we are leaving some of our family here that we cherish, and many friends, we are also moving back within driving distance to many of our beloved family members and lifelong friends. And finally, but quite significantly, we need to have ample time together as a family and as a couple to connect with each other and to connect with Life. Moving our family to Woodstock, Vermont meets all the above criteria.

3) We would rather spend our money on working on and owning land and a home than on keeping up with the high cost of living here in Los Angeles. We could stay here and continue to make it work indefinitely, but because we aren’t “in the industry” as everyone says here (we aren’t screenwriters, actors, producers, or people who are pursuing the entertainment industry in any way in Hollywood) there isn’t going to be a big break or turning point where we suddenly get that wind fall of cash, fame, and fortune. We aren’t counting on or hoping for a big pay day. And while our life here has been beautiful and wonderful in many ways, it hasn’t been built for sustainability longterm. We were having so much fun and enjoying our mountains, the culture, the beach, the weather, and our friends that we had started to let some of our other dreams slip away a little. Dreams of owning land, dreams of living that quiet, simple life like little Hobbits. I guess it’s just kind of like the law of motion that states “An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.” We were happily staying in motion here until from time to time some unbalanced force would cause us to re-evaluate the sacrifices we were making to stay here.

So given that, we have decided that we’d rather invest what we have now in something tangible and lasting. So that when unbalanced forces act upon us, we have roots. We have a life container to keep us grounded. A garden to work in during the spring and summer months, fruit and vegetables to gather and process in the fall, and a fire to stoke in the winter to heat our house. And maple trees to tap too. The meaningful work and play we hope to do on our land will connect us to our life there in a way that goes deeper and transcends happiness.

4) Our kids! Childhood is fleeting! I can’t imagine never having had land as a kid. The experience of connecting with public land here in California has been amazing; I’m so glad we have had the beauty of the Santa Monica Mountains surrounding us for the past few years. And we’ve made them our playground, our classroom, and our backyard. The beach too. It’s been wonderful, and it has impressed upon me the importance of preserving public land. But before my kids have left that sacred time of childhood, I want them to experience what it feels like to plant a tree and watch it grow month by month and year by year. I want them to have a grassy, flat space to practice cartwheels and a stream where they can build dams. I want to build tree forts and have a bonfire pit in our woods. I want them to marvel at how the seasons dramatically change their familiar space, and how in all of the change there is rhythm and order.

It will be more sacred than a dream come true because it will be real life. We are taking this home that we’ve built together and we’re giving it a place. A place where all the good and bad, the mundane and the extraordinary, the holidays and the every days all transpire. We’re looking forward to our life, our real life, happening in that house and on that land.

I’ll be posting here to chronicle this new chapter of our life.

Posted in family, personal reflection | 16 Comments

allowing myself to wonder

When you fail at your religion, what do you do? Where do you go from there? These questions are ones I’ve sought to answer over the past decade and a half.

I used to think there were two options: be a religious zealot or be a militant materialist. No matter how much I tried at the first, some of the fine print of the brand of Christianity that was available to me didn’t resonate with me. My conscience couldn’t allow me to live peacefully with some of the core tenets of my (so-called) faith.

For example, I  couldn’t subscribe to the idea that there is one right religion or spiritual philosophy and everybody not in that group was going to hell to suffer eternal wrath. This idea was probably easier for people to believe when globalization wasn’t a reality. Instant access to information and communication through the internet has made us conclusively aware that we are all humans. Also, international travel has become so common too. We just book tickets online and get on a plane. We go to other countries, experience different cultures, and realize—it’s all one world. After traveling to Thailand and experiencing a largely Buddhist culture, I was convinced that Buddhists have God inside them.

I couldn’t believe that God thought being born gay was sinful. You can give me Bible verses all you want, even though there aren’t many that address this specifically—but even so, I can give you some about shellfish and women not having braids or speaking in church. Every denomination of Christians picks and chooses what they think is essential to being a true believer and what they dismiss as “oh, that was cultural back then.” I remember once someone telling me that people couldn’t drink water because of lead poisoning and that’s why Jesus was making water into wine. It was a party—a wedding—and providing your guests with good wine was considered polite and fun. Religion and culture are integrated and affected by one another and always have been.

I couldn’t believe that God had pre-ordained gender roles (i.e., God wanted men to be spiritual leaders and women to be subordinate). I just couldn’t believe that an all powerful, all wise Being whose infinite knowledge transcended time and culture and space would set up the foundation for Truth on such culturally defined norms–and bad ones at that. Or on such seemingly arbitrary biological terms. As society was evolving beyond such negative norms (now known as prejudice) I wanted to be on the side of history that empowered the socially weak, not oppressed or excluded them.

Throughout my childhood, I didn’t have exposure to ideologies outside of evangelical or pentecostal Christianity; I went through high school just before having a computer and the internet was a common thing. So at age 19, I stepped into my first anthropology class and my heart and mind swooned. I finally found a more similar tribe of people. Social and cultural anthropologists!!

Finally people with doctorates from reputable universities were not only saying that gender roles were all cultural but also giving me studies upon studies that suggested evidence of such. The importance of culture and how that affected everything one thinks and believes and experiences— oh, they were such kindred spirits on so many levels.

Except in as much as most of these kindred spirits didn’t think we had spirits. As time went on, I realized that I diverged from some of my most respected professors in terms of spirituality. Most of my professors thought the very notion of God was ridiculous and a relic from when humans were still fatalistic and far more at the mercy of predators, natural disasters, and crops.

So, as I aged into my later twenties, and was at that time working for a philosophy association I tried on atheism for a while. This was only sometimes in my mind, though. I was far too fearful to admit this on a social level. I was afraid of what people would say and think of me. “Oh, she’s so deceived. So backslidden” I could imagine people would say. And honestly, I had always related to God and was in the habit of relating to God constantly. I kept praying without thinking and then I’d have to remind myself I didn’t believe in God; it was a lot of work.

I quickly realized that atheism didn’t work for me. It, too, took more faith than I had. There was too much of a spiritual place carved out in my life that needed to be filled with something more than just what we see and touch. I needed meaning to be more than just life and death here on earth; I needed purpose, and I needed love to be more than just chemicals. I needed something bigger than I was to hold onto when life got scary.

But, I wasn’t convinced of anything specific like my parents had been when they had radical conversions to becoming Christians. Most of the adult leaders in my life had been hippies or at least partiers in the 60’s and/or 70’s and so had these drastic “come to Jesus” experiences where they honestly became like different people because of authentic spiritual encounters with God.

But I was 3 when I became a Christian. I didn’t have much of a past—at all—let alone a bad one. I didn’t have any radical conversion moment that left me convinced when my mind started to really criticize and analyze. So once I became a critical thinking adult who wanted to truly step outside of the faith to get perspective on it, I realized that I didn’t know anything for sure about my authentic, volitional spirituality. I really didn’t know if I believed all this—or any of this—at all.

Admitting I didn’t know meant admitting I didn’t believe what I was supposed to believe. And that felt like failure. So much so that I couldn’t think past the failure. So I remained stuck in this state of feeling like a failed Christian. But knowing what you’re not is very different from knowing who you are.

But then, I moved to Topanga, an open minded mountain town in southern California known for being inhabited by eclectic and creative residents. Nestled in the dramatic Santa Monica mountains and overlooking the Pacific Ocean, it immediately captured my intrigue and quickly my heart. The open mindedness and vastness of opportunity there made it apparent that no one was going to care what I did or didn’t believe. It wasn’t going to matter to anyone if I wasn’t a Christian. And that was the first time I started to feel free.

There was no shame in Topanga. No shame. A culture without shame! How amazing. How freeing. As I started to really let myself live and be in this new reality without shame, I was able to move beyond what I didn’t believe and toward what I wondered. I was able to be curious. I was able to feel intrigued by the ideas and hypotheses I had about the Universe, Divine reality, and how humans fit into the greater whole of being. It allowed me to slowly feel free to leave the intellectual and spiritual prison I’d been remaining in for so long out of fear and shame. Just like the mountains and sparkling blue ocean stretch as far as the eye can see, the spiritual and cognitive space is also vast. And in that wide and open environment, I was finally able to emerge from my chrysalis of doubt and emerge into a state of curious, hopeful wonder.

Allowing myself to wonder led me to hold this thought in my heart and mind long enough for it to take root: what if we are all born with God in us? What if we all have a Divine spark inside of us? And what if, because of that, we also are born with an innate yearning to be reunited with the Higher source of that spark?

In Hindu religious thought this concept of innate Divinity and also a Higher Being is known at Atman and Brahman, God Immanent and God Transcendent. In Quaker religious thought, it is known as an Inner Light, or God within. In fact this very idea of God being within every person that comes into the world is what the founder of Quakerism, George Fox, suffered persecution to promote.

And that’s at the heart of my complaint with some sects of religious thought; religion, without love, can be exclusive and shaming.

Ideologies that focus on the depravity of the human soul are unhelpful at best. Shaming people about the core of their being is not an effective way to produce creative, inspired, and loving people. I know that for believers of Christianity, this way of thinking ideally all resolves in the good news that Jesus is the Savior. But it also implies an almost necessary self-hatred on the nature of one’s being.

I believe that there is light and dark, good and bad, in all of us. I don’t think we are born gods. But I do believe we have God in us and that if we foster that part of our being and find ways to plug into the God that transcends us and unites us all, then we can find Truth and Love and Life right here and now.

Richard Rohr calls this unitive source of Life the Cosmic Christ. And He is one of the only Christian-oriented writers and thinkers that I hear and think, “wow! I believe this! I can believe THIS!” He and many of the spiritual leaders from various paths that I respect suggest that the Divine reality, this transcendent Truth is all around us if we can only learn to truly see. And that’s the part I’m trying to learn now. 

Dusting off and practicing my spiritual skill set (meditation, prayer, and transcendent experience), however, is not the easiest task. I’ve been able to connect intellectually with these ideas about opening my mind and heart to hopeful, curious wonder about God, but I haven’t yet been able to get the spiritual muscles, so to speak, back in shape yet.

So, as always, I continue the journey.

Posted in religion, spirituality | 20 Comments

the summer of 1992

I’ve been thinking a lot lately (roughly the past 10 years) about religion, faith, spirituality, and all the many twists and turns that my own personal journey has taken over my lifetime. After spending a good 8 years deconstructing all that I don’t believe anymore, I’ve spent the past 2 gradually reconstructing what it is that I do believe.

Writing is my therapy, and it’s how I untangle my thoughts. I’m going to start journaling through my journey of spirituality in weeks and months to come. For now, I’m going to stroll down memory lane to a pivotal and defining era and a few events that shaped the course of my spiritual identity.

I, like basically all of my friends from my childhood, was raised as a Christian. I was taught to see the world through a moderately conservative Christian lens. I use the word “moderately” because most of my peers were from families far stricter than my own. Though my mom converted to Christianity before I was born—and had thus left behind many of her wild ways of the 60’s and 70’s—she could never let go of music with a good beat or M*A*S*H and Jeopardy. So, unlike many of my fellow Christian homeschool friends, we listened to the radio and were allowed to watch some television. Also, my dad, (whom in recent years has been diagnosed with Asperger’s) had a bit of a temper and would use some rather colorful language whenever frustrated. Also, he taught me to defend myself and anyone weaker than I was, so I had knocked down a handful of bullies in my day. So, between the radio, the tv, the fact that I knew all the basic curse words, and had been in a few fist fights—I felt like I was a pretty normal American kid.

I guess I always sort of knew that I resided rather on the fringe of the conservative world in which I lived. My mom, while staying squarely within a Christian framework, always questioned (and still does) everything being taught from the pulpit. She would dissect the teaching with her own understanding of the Bible (which was deep and vast as she woke up before the sun every morning to pray and read said Bible—and still does). So, it was modeled to me to ask questions, challenge what people—especially patriarchal, loud, authoritative leaders—said.

So, I had this idea that I was a little bit different than the other more sheltered and obedient Christians, but I felt like I had my place among them.

But then just as the summer that I was 11 years old began, we were informed that my sister, Merry, 16, and I were not allowed to return to our homeschooling group in the fall. We were uninvited back to our co-op on the grounds that we were “too worldly.” Merry peaced out back to a brick and mortar school the following year, and my mom cobbled together a handful of loyal friends who agreed to remain in a group with me for another year. 

For anyone who isn’t familiar with the ways of conservative Christianity, you may be wondering what “too worldly” means. I’m still not entirely sure either, but I think our exposure to media was frowned upon. Additionally, we were judged to be too self aware and we laughed too much (often at each other because our relationship was laced with humor always; Merry was super cool and popular in her days at a regular school, and in homeschooling life, sometimes we were re-enacting the civil war or dressed like Pilgrims and we’d catch each other’s eye and have to laugh. Another thing my mom taught us was to not take life too seriously).

That was the first time that I felt like my very character was in question because my Christianity wasn’t pure enough. I definitely got the message that something wasn’t okay about me. The consensus was that the other children needn’t be tarnished by our worldly ways of listening to U2 and Pearl Jam and having a sense of levity. 

I was sad about that because I was a great athlete when we’d play soccer at lunchtime on our co-op days. I also was one of the most prolific and interesting writers during our creative writing workshop. I also nailed my recitation of both the Preamble to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and I knew all the Presidents by heart. In my opinion, watching TGIF didn’t diminish my intellectual capacity and listening to Ten didn’t ruin my contribution as a valuable homeschooler. And apart from the time that I knocked one of the boys almost unconscious (for spying on a few of us girls while changing our clothes and then talking about what he saw to the other boys) I was a very sociable and even gregarious member of the group.

It hurt to be rejected for being different and wrong. Especially, I think, because the only world I knew was a conservative Christian world. So, for me, it was as if the whole world had said, “you’re a bad person with loose morals and a rusty ethical compass.” And that really hurt because I actually tried from a young age to take ethics to heart and to practice consistent living with my values.

I have early memories of leading my neighborhood friends (of whom, I was the oldest by at least one year) down the street and talking about how materialism and consumerism was rotting the souls of humans. I took a dollar bill and ripped it and said it was a symbol of my protest against materialism. I ripped off any labels on my shoes and clothes as a protest to big corporations (this, too, was largely just symbolic since I basically lived in my bathing suit in the summer anyway). Also, I hated gendered stereotypes and would rant on and on to my neighborhood friends about how outrageous it was that pink was somehow a “girl” color and blue was somehow a “boy” color. Did colors have genitalia? I think not. On protest, I avoided all pink for years.

Then the summer that I turned 12, someone came into my life who changed it forever. He was a fleeting, yet entirely intriguing and formative character. He was a philosopher-poet and an artist, and he just came walking down the street one day toward my house. He was 21 years old and had just moved from Naples, Florida, which happened to be where my family spent a couple of months out of every year to stay with my grandparents whenever the weather got bad (and my mom needed some sunshine and a good road trip). So, he struck up a conversation with me about the Naples license plate in our driveway (my grandparents happened to be visiting that week). One thing led to another and before we knew it he became a good friend of our family.

Also, he fell in love with my oldest sister, Darby.

This was no new phenomenon to me. Darby had long, brown beautiful hair that shone with gold highlights in the sunshine, and she wore flowing, hippie skirts over body suits with long necklaces and doc martens. She was kind to everyone, a great listener, and people just fell in love with her everywhere we went. Meanwhile, at that phase in life, I literally had bugs in my hair by the end of every day from basically being feral. I loved being outside; I’d go out almost as soon as it was light in the summertime, and I would only come in for meals and bedtime. And I only took a shower when my mom made me (making the ever so compelling argument that swimming or playing in the sprinkler was just as good as a bath) which was basically just before church on Sundays.

So, I wasn’t oblivious to the fact that often older guys befriended me—again, like countless others—to win the affection of my oldest sister. She and I always had a special bond, and I guess they thought if they got in good with me, I’d have some sway in the boyfriend approval department.

But meanwhile, for that whole summer, he and I formed a special friendship. Daily he would write poetry with my friends and me and philosophize with us about the universe and the quest for meaning and the purpose of existence. He genuinely respected my thoughts and what I had to say. When I was sad, he would help me to write about it. When I was angry, he would make me own my feelings and not blame it on others. When he heard my parents fighting from across the street, he would take me and my friends on walks to explore abandoned farmhouses. It was a magical summer, and one that changed the course of my life forever. Instead of feeling like a failure at being what I was “supposed to be”, that was the beginning of embracing the aspects of who I am. Having someone older that I admired see me for who I was and say, “hey, you’ve got potential. Don’t ever lose your insight and your quest for wisdom” left a lasting mark on me.

After that magical summer ended, this guy realized that Darby was in love with someone else just as he went off to college. But before he went away, he gave me a copy of Walden and On the Road. And then he vanished from my life just as quickly as he had appeared. 

Posted in family, religion, spirituality | 7 Comments

Leaving 2016 with these thoughts on relationships

Humans need each other. Emotionally, spiritually, neuro-biologically, and physically we need to have meaningful relationships in order to be healthy. Learning how to meaningfully connect with others will continue to be a lifelong journey for me. I’ve spent the past decade learning a lot about authenticity. As Brené Brown writes, “true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world.” I have found authenticity to be a vital component to living a fulfilling life, but it’s not the only vital element to social health.

The past year and a half I’ve also spent time learning about vulnerability and how distinctly different yet equally important it is when compared to authenticity.

Vulnerability is defined by Merriam-Webster as “capable of being physically or emotionally wounded.” I prefer Brene Brown’s definition on the subject; she writes that vulnerability is “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.” They are similar definitions, but the first one defines vulnerability with the tone that it is an accident or a weakness with the potential for harm. The latter is a definition that resonates with me as something that a person chooses when there’s worth to that choice; her definition leaves the outcome undetermined and one could hope it would result in something good. In relationships that matter and need to nourish our souls, vulnerability is worthwhile. It’s scary and doesn’t always feel comfortable, but it’s necessary if we want to have real connection. I take a risk when that risk means living within my values.

That is not something I want to offer everyone in every relationship, though—even the ones where I care deeply about the person but have seen that we aren’t vulnerability-compatible. If the person has a tendency to judge me or make me feel wrong when I show who I am, then I won’t want to continue to be vulnerable. And if the other person in a relationship doesn’t respond well to my vulnerability, then they may be happier without that element to our relationship too! It can feel like a gross over-sharing in a relationship when the other person bears their heart, soul, or some deep part of themselves without it being mutually consensual. Some relationships are meant to be primarily about companionship. You do stuff together, and that fills an important social need too! Not every companion needs to be a soul-sharing confidant or even someone who really knows the deep, personal you. And vice versa.

So the lessons I’ve learned over the past decade have been about how to always be authentic and when and with whom to be vulnerable. It sounds simple, but it has taken me a very long time to feel connected in a deep, meaningful sense with others while also knowing my limitations in different relationships and communities.

Learning this on a community-level has been quite a journey. I felt very isolated inside myself in faith-centered groups for many years; having others assume that we shared in common a lot of the specifics—when in fact my spirituality was undergoing a lot of analysis and evolution—made me feel caught in an awkward set of options. My choices seemed to be that I could be inauthentic to preserve the other person’s feelings or I could be vulnerable and risk being misunderstood or judged. By default I chose option 3: be kind and remain unknown. I didn’t feel that I could share my true self without being judged.

Yet, I kept going to church because it was all I knew in terms of how to have community in a rural or suburban area and I genuinely liked and loved the people there. But I couldn’t help but feel that at the core level of who I was, I would be rejected, shamed, and told I was wrong unless I conformed back to the right way of being.

If anyone reading has been in this type of situation (regardless of the social context), then you understand the depth of these words and how lonely it can feel to be unknown. If you have ever had a part of who you are that felt non-negotiably true (either you don’t believe the faith you were handed and were supposed to accept, you have a different sexual orientation than your parents and friends know or would support, or you feel drawn to a different path than the one you were supposed to take) then you know what being isolated and unknown on a core level feels like. And it doesn’t matter how many people like you (i.e., the you you let them know). The outer surface of yourself that you work diligently to make as authentic as possible so that you aren’t a liar can be genuine, but if you don’t connect with at least some people on a deeper level of both authenticity and vulnerability, then you won’t feel fulfilled or connected.

And just to give some balance so people know I’m not being unfairly rough on church, I felt the same way in my super liberal, atheistic undergrad program. Having any spirituality at all in that program was often greeted with disdain and a funeral for my potential as a credible student or a person with a reasonable mind. I loved my academic program and the people in it, but I felt there too that if they knew the core of who I was they’d reject me.

I felt like I belonged nowhere for a long time.

Over time, I worked to learn how to be myself and let others know me, the deeper version of me, when I felt safe enough to share. I developed some mechanisms over time to do this with pre-existing relationships that remained important to me though I felt that on some levels I had changed from the person they had first known. Stepping out in vulnerability to say, “hey, this is me and I’m different than you may want me to be, but I hope you still love me” is a terrifying and brave act. It doesn’t always go well, to be sure; when it does, though, you end up with some very meaningful relationships that truly fill your heart.

Learning this on an individual level, has also been a big process. Fortunately, I had some very close and accepting relationships all throughout this time where I felt like I didn’t have a larger community to which I belonged. My primary core friend was Collin, although we had to both learn a lot about being vulnerable in our own relationship. It’s always been easier for me to get angry instead of feeling hurt. So, for me, that’s been the biggest journey of my vulnerability with Collin. Not shutting him out when I felt hurt or disappointed was the most torturous exercise of self-improvement I’ve ever done. Talking about it sincerely without exaggeration or guardedness was even worse. In the end, though, it has been so worth it to re-learn the way I handle hurt in our relationship.

I’ve also been brave about showing my true self in this way with my mom this year, specifically about my spirituality, and that took courage! My mom is kind and loving, but she dedicated her life to raising us to have some very specific beliefs. Letting her know some of my own differences on certain points was scary, but she was very kind and accepting. It made me feel truly, deeply known and loved. And that kind of love from a mother is a treasure.

Richard Rohr suggests that we won’t truly learn love unless we develop a spiritual practice that teaches us how to keep our hearts open in hell. Learning to meditate isn’t something I’ve mastered (though, if anyone claimed to have mastered mediation I may question their character for bragging about their meditation skills). But I do like to run and write and pray and think and work on making my heart and my actions consistent with love. Oh, and most of all, I love being in nature. These are my spiritual practices that help me develop the strength to keep my heart open in hell.

If you’ve been married, in a serious romantic relationship, if you are a parent, if you have a sibling, or a friend, or a dog—if you’ve ever truly loved another being—at some point you will have to decide to shut down your heart to feeling or to let it remain open through hell. Because true love hurts. Vulnerability hurts. People disappoint us. They leave. They die. Dogs too. They aren’t who we wanted them to be (not so much dogs, but people do this a lot). We aren’t held in the esteem in which we want people to hold us. Relationships are hard. And not every one is worth the intense amount of deep, emotional work that it takes to make the relationship successful and fulfilling. Some relationships are healthier when they end. I truly believe this. But the ones that you want to keep, hold them dearly. And the ones that you end, work hard to not get caught up in bitterness, resentment or self-preservation. Do what it takes to confront your own fears and weaknesses so that you can be love in the relationships that do matter to you. And that necessitates being authentic AND being vulnerable.

Posted in Uncategorized | 10 Comments