Dusty Model T's, rope swings in the moonlight, walks on waterfalls, and my feet firmly planted in the grass

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My intention for the summer was to ground in myself. To come back to center, to reset, to earn some money the hard and tiring way, and to be among the trees and the grass and the flowers that have so much to teach us. And so, though it sounded to probably everyone like the thing least likely to make me happy as a 25-year-old, I decided to move home to my parents’ house for an indefinite number of months, to waitress, and to appreciate the quiet and the loneliness of upstate New York.

 

I had gotten swept up, in the city, in a life that wasn’t quite real. I couldn’t pay my full rent without my parents’ help, I was riding atop a mountain of credit card debt, and I didn’t want the kind of job that would have given me enough security to be there independently. I wrote, I dreamed, and I worked on projects for lovely people I found scattered in Brooklyn and lower Manhattan who paid me an hourly wage. But the idea of living in a place as exciting as New York just to spend the majority in my life in the same room looking at a computer was too much for my soul to handle.

 

Leaving New York was like being spat out of a tornado. I was quite happily stuck for three years in its intense spin and all of a sudden, as my lease came to an end in May, I saw an exit sign and followed it. Faster than I could blink, all of my belongings except a suitcase, air mattress, and pillow were in storage. I camped out for three nights on my empty apartment floor and then left, knowing I wouldn’t miss it. And I didn’t. Not once. Despite all of the people I still care deeply about in that wonderful city, it had lost its wonder for me and I didn’t need it anymore to feel full. I left with the plan of returning in the fall and knew I wasn’t coming back.

 

The idea of grounding “in myself,” as awkwardly phrased in the first sentence of this post, became solidified after I went to see a spiritual teacher on a brief visit back to the city in June. I felt ready to peer into the higher realms, to find a shaman in Peru and look for answers, and I wanted her advice and direction. And she told me I wasn’t ready. “You have to find god in the places you don’t see him,” she said, “before anyone can take you up there. Otherwise you won’t want to come back.”

 

Where was I finding god? Well, in men, mostly. In romance. In the humans I thought were capable of affirming my right to exist and to thrive on this planet. I was giving them all of my power and had been since I had started dating. This, I believe, is a common problem for women and men raised in a culture of romantic comedies.

 

While none of this was what I necessarily wanted to hear, it resonated. This is why we need teachers – to tell us when we are looking for answers in the wrong places and to bring us back to square one. Look harder. Try harder.

 

I have always found it easy to pass the emotional baton to lovers. Friends, too, maybe. And the universe always tests me around this. On the heels of a relationship, I always set the intention to love myself first. I decide not to date for a while. I practice yoga and meditation more frequently. I sometimes decide to go back to therapy. I garden. Whatever I think will help me to bring happiness to myself, I do. And then, inevitably, another attractive person comes along – often at the height of my self-love. And the first test is, do I let them in? The second and much harder test is, do I begin to lean on them? It is always so tempting, and often so muddled. The process of beginning to open up to someone, to tell them your insecurities and your fears and your demons, can often lead to affirmations and reassurances, which easily turn into expectations of those things. It becomes the other person’s job to tell you how great you are, to hold you up when you’re feeling down, to give you compliments and affection. All of this is natural. But where do we cross a line and stop grounding within? Where do we lose our own connection to our souls and begin to let ourselves be fed by another? Where do we forget to honor ourselves first?

 

I think the world would be a much healthier place if we were all taught from a young age that happiness must come from within. “Do not seek without,” the Buddha famously said. Satisfaction never comes from money, or big houses, or multiple houses, or exotic vacations, or another person. Never! Never, never, never never never. Of course, having those things can help us to feel at ease in our lives and can bring moments of joy. But feeling deeply fulfilled NEVER comes from external objects or people. We project all of our internal insecurities, fears, and past hurts onto every aspect of our lives – so how can we expect to derive joy from anything at all when we haven’t dealt with the way we relate to ourselves? If we haven’t begun to observe and bring love to our inner dialogue? It is astounding how many people make this mistake, at the expense of a happy life. I believe that I have seen this firsthand in several generations of people.

 

I recently met another test in this summer of grounding, a beautiful human who brought in a lot of light and innocent adventure after a big moment of heartbreak. And I knew that my task was to figure out how to speak my own boundaries into place without either running away or jumping into something I didn’t want or need in a phase of complete uncertainty in my life. Times of uncertainty, I find, make clinging to anything good more tempting and more disastrous. Luckily, he was the type of person who encouraged open honesty with his own. And while the process of speaking my truth and owning up to my desires and barriers has not ceased to either make me want to throw up everywhere or have momentary amnesia as soon as I open my mouth, I was given the amazing opportunity to begin to understand how to honor myself in each moment, to feel what I feel and do my best to communicate it even if it isn’t what the other person particularly wants to hear.

 

As I begin a two-week stint in California on the other side of the country, I am observing the same old pattern popping up – the desire to cling to this person while in an unfamiliar place, to text him and receive affirmation in return, to be coddled through the phone. To turn someone into a virtual partner so that reality feels a little softer and sweeter. And I know, again, that my task is not to do the easy thing. Not to go on emotional autopilot and just do what feels good. My task is to coddle myself, to ask myself deeper questions about what I need in those moments when I reach for the phone. Sometimes, it’s a moment of meditation. Sometimes it’s chocolate or a cookie. A cup of tea. A chat with my nieces, who I’m sharing a house with for the next week. A call with a close friend. A few minutes in the sun. A drive, a hike. A swim in the ocean.

 

And when I’m ready to bring someone into those most intimate spaces with me and hold us both there, with presence and no expectations, I’ll know.

Firsts: Edition 1

My First Love

Photo: @shamitmussavi

Photo: @shamitmussavi


Today, I am feeling homesick for the summer of my first love.

 

I have been thinking about how we find home in different places and in different times in our lives. Certain moments, a few minutes or words or months or years, sneak in to leave impressions and shape our realities. They are our touchstones, and they have the power to make us feel happy, sad, angry, sick, or a vague nostalgic mixture of all of these things when they happen to ripple across our minds.

 

Every time I am asked to go to a “happy place” in a meditation, I find myself sitting in the dusty, dry grass in front of the Lodge at my old summer camp. The Lodge is a great log cabin of a structure, with the front side wide open to the elements, just a row of large beams that still look like the trees they were carved from. An enormous fallen tree, enormous roots and all, sits in front of the Lodge, a favorite of tree-climbers. A large bell suspended from a wooden structure stands in front of that, the only signal to the entire camp to wake up, come to the table, or gather if there is a fire. And in front of that lies an expanse of dusty, dry grass that leads out to the Puget Sound, where on lucky occasions pods of orca whales poke their fins out of the cold water. Each summer for eight years, I went to this place, the most beautiful island on earth, where the Lodge always stood as the one solid and permanent structure, and I laid in that grass with a group of friends who knew me as my rawest self, and I laughed with them.

 

We sang folk songs after every meal and had a square dance every week and learned to love music by the Avett Brothers and Bob Dylan and talking about our feelings and playing strange games of truth or dare. From the ages of 12 to 20 (by which time I was a counselor), I spent at least a month of every summer exploring camp’s wild little island in the San Juans, sleeping in a tipi and stripping away everything that made me “me” in my real-world life. I wore unstylish old clothes I could get dirty and wet in, I abandoned my cell phone and my makeup routine, I slept in a sleeping bag, and I spent time feeling into the nature around me, journaling and reading and gazing at the ocean instead of watching TV. I let myself do what humans have done forever, belonging to the trees and the earth rather than seeing them as “other,” and I melted into a bigger reality than the one I was used to.  

 

Camp was magic. Camp was mystery. Camp was home. Camp was where you got to arrive, open your trunk, get used to cold showers, recalibrate with the earth’s natural rhythms, touch base with your essence, and realize that the “real world” was something you never wanted to get back to. But you had to go back, every August, and you readjusted scary fast, picking up the cell phone and the makeup and the stories, not sure after a few months if you even really wanted to go back to camp (but – thank god - your parents signed you up anyway).

 

My second of three summers working at camp, I met a cute boy who had also grown up in the summers on this miniature island in the middle of the ocean. I remember the first time I saw him, sitting two spots to my right at a late-night campfire on camp’s south-facing beach. He was exactly my type (which at the time I hadn’t yet discovered), a little lost and brooding and down on the world and the point of it all. Something in our interaction that night signaled to me that I had caught his attention, and as a shy introvert I wasn’t used to feeling like the center of attention or at all comfortable with being observed. I was used to making eye-contact with boys I thought were cute and looking away quickly, never speaking to them again. But this time my silence had captured some curiosity in him, and it got to be magical instead of debilitating. I got to be mysterious. The real truth (which again I’m not sure I knew at the time) is that I don’t have much to hide, and usually the tortured souls, the ones I love and who find me intriguing at first, only stick around long enough to figure that out. 

 

Loving someone for the first time is a strange and vague process. You don’t really know what you’re getting yourself into, so there’s no gauge for caution or self-protection. It wasn’t my intention, consciously, to get into something that I couldn’t crawl my way out of, though I think I’d watched enough romantic comedies that a subconscious pathway in my brain had been carved out to transport me there. And it was fun, playing into the romance of moonlight and beaches we could have to ourselves, and feeling that someone, for the first time, was deeply interested and invested in what I had to say. He created a beautiful space for my thoughts and my stories, and I loved feeling seen.

 

There is a feeling of fate that people often associate with their first love (I haven’t done research on this, it just seems to be a common thread for a good number of people I’ve talked to about this). And I don’t know if that’s biological or cultural, if it’s just the movies that lead us to this fun misunderstanding or if our bodies, in their primal essence, still want to settle in with the first person who comes along. I came out of that summer brutally dumped, and very sad, with an altered sense of what life must be about if it wasn’t about spending my life with a person I felt unchangeably, infinitely connected to. I spent years trying to wrap my head around it, actually, only to realize that the one certainty of life is that people come and go.

 

This first is one my mind is still trained to go back to, on that special island that has never felt the way it did before I met the first person to hold that magical space for me. It was like having someone hold a beautiful blank canvas that I was allowed to paint myself on, in any way I wanted to and with strokes that felt whole and good and expansive and hopeful for all that life would bring. And so I’m not sure it was ever really about the person holding the canvas, except that he knew how to hold it up, that perfect image of me, in a way I haven’t experienced since. And I think – I hope - I held one up for him as well, allowing him to paint the best version of himself, the one with the beautiful soul and the perfect face and all of the pretending, the version he would later toss aside because pretending was easier, in the world.

 

My gratitude for the space of camp and the broken love that manifested for me there is one of my deepest, because it showed me my most divine self. It showed me the truest and unbreakable part of me, the one I painted, who is always in me and ready to show herself when she feels safe enough. The work in this life, I think, is to create that safe space for divinity and truth. To hold that space for ourselves so that no one else has to. And to allow love to be present in everything that comes through the door.

 

— Olivia

Friday musings

Sometimes life takes us for a spin. Or two, or three.

 

A memory came back to me recently. I am at the marina. I am four or five years old. And my friend has a kite. We watch it soar up into the sky and float above us. I decide I want to hold the wooden spool it’s attached to. I want to be the one flying the kite, to know what it feels like. And as soon as I take it, as soon as I have a hold on it for a single beat, it is pulled out of my hands. And the spool drifts up and away. And we all scramble after it trying to catch it. But it’s too late. The kite flies away. Everyone yells, I know it isn’t truly my fault. The kite flies farther and farther away, unstoppable.

 

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I wanted so much to make sense of it all. I wanted to make sense of the way that life sometimes hands us something so beautiful, so perfect, only to take it away. I wanted to know that you were supposed to belong to me, and that you eventually would, forever. Are we here just to learn lessons and then die, unhappy and wishing we could have done something differently? Wishing we could have changed the way things happened. If only I hadn’t said that scary thing. If only I’d been braver, or quieter, or louder, or more fun. What would have happened then?

 

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I have spent a lot of my lifetime trying to analyze myself, to understand the way that I’m perceived, to fix it so that no one can ever say a bad thing. Think a bad thing. Think of me as anything other than beautiful and interesting and delightful and unique.

 

But everything is a mirror, and often people don’t like themselves.

 

I am certain that two pure souls can do nothing but love each other.

 

__

 

This time, I’m not heartbroken. I feel whole, and content. I don’t feel, this time, like I lost. I don’t want to go back and do it over in the way that, reverse engineered, will make you stay. And while I wish you could sit next to me in my strength, could sit comfortably in my arms or holding my hand, I know you can’t. And I know you won’t. Maybe ever. And I am at peace.

On jumping in - or something like that

On jumping in - or something like that

Why is it that we humans have such a hard time expressing our feelings – in the moment, as we feel them, to the people we desperately wish we could express them to?

 

I just watched a sweet Netflix movie that recently came out, To All the Boys I’ve Ever Loved. Depending on your taste it might make you want to throw up a little or feel more depressed or feel more lovey-dovey about the world. I would say that, like most romantic comedies set in high school, it made me feel lovey-dovey; a little sad when it ended. Perhaps it’s because that time in my life held a certain hopefulness in it about love; one that I find it a bit hard, sometimes, to get back in touch with. There is something so fun about sneaking around, or fantasizing about it, and having those quintessential crushes that never quite materialize but hold so much power in your heart and mind that you just KNOW if that person only somehow indirectly found out how you felt you might have a shot at a sweet, rom com-worthy romance. Right? But you would never tell them you thought they were sexy because then you would be deemed a total freak and the entire school would think you were untouchable (this extreme thought might be slightly skewed by the insular experience of boarding school..).

 

In the movie, a shy, happy-to-stay-home-and-watch-a-move-on-a-Saturday kind of girl (like me!) has a box of letters that she has written to the objects of her massive, gut-wrenching crushes over the years.. that she has of course never sent. And I will not spoil the movie for you – go watch it, it’s adorable – but basically it plays with this theme of saying how you feel; why we don’t; what the worst thing that could possibly happen might be if we did…

 

The only way that one could initiate a relationship in my high school - and I will get off of the high school theme soon - was to somehow get close to them in the sweaty mosh pit of a high school dance, rub your body up against them, and hope that they responded well. And that might lead to a hook up which might lead to a number exchange and texting and further hookups and then some semblance of a relationship - of course, I assume, with all of the lovely conversations and moments that came along with it. Anyone who went to high school with me and actually managed to pull off a relationship there is more than welcome to correct me if I am wrong. I stuck to the sidelines at high school dances and avoided boys like the black plague.

Thoughts on female power & my grandmother

Thoughts on female power & my grandmother

I never asked my grandmother what the words “powerful woman” meant to her. I suppose I never thought to. In her own way, she was as powerful as they come, a fierce independent and the matriarch of our large family. She was by no measure a modern woman: she might not have survived, with her lifestyle, as a member of my generation. My father joked, always, that she hadn’t cooked a meal for herself in her life – that, in fact, she didn’t even know how to boil water. When my sister and I (and any member of my family, or friend of hers) would visit her for cocktails or dinner at her apartment in San Francisco, she would invite us to sit around her in her living room (she always sat in the same big red chair). She would then use the little bell to the right of her chair to signal to her staff (which, in her lifetime, rotated every few years – she had high standards) that we were ready to place our drink orders. She would ring several times though the evening, when we were ready for more coca-cola (we only graduated to alcoholic drinks toward the end of our relationship, and it never felt quite right to drink with Nana), or when we’d run out of Macadamia nuts (always on her table during cocktails), or when we were ready to head into the dining room. My grandmother didn’t wash her own hair – in the style of many ladies of her generation, she got it done once a week at the hairdressers’. And, of course, she had never had a career – had never even considered having one. Each of these qualities of her life – being taken care of, really, through marriage from a young age, by her staff, her hairdresser, and surely others in the smallest of ways – were the expectations of her generation and of her social class. She was not raised to take care of herself; and yet, in so many ways, she did. And she took care of those around her as well.