Blasting myself back together

Yesterday, in celebration of Mother’s Day, I checked into a spa resort with my best friend for 24 hours. The spa’s slogan was “arrive in pieces, leave whole.”

All I could think was that’s a lofty promise. Could the seafoam smoothie body wrap I was about to get be that good? Did I need to add other services? Was it the pause from the everyday chaos that would transform this tired mama?

Spoiler alert: it wasn’t the body wrap. It was the hydro-massager – the only spa service that still had availability. Think massive black leather recliner with powerful, roving waterjets built in. I booked the two of us 20-minute sessions.

The spa attendant got me situated first. She showed me how to adjust the pressure and change the massage zones. I’d already decided to let it run as programmed. I was taking a break from making decisions.

The jet-streams started at my feet, kneading my calves before working their way upward. And then something weird happened. It blasted my butt. Literally cheek-jiggling, shake, shake, shake your booty kind of action.

I erupted into laughter. I looked over at my friend and saw the attendant was still with her explaining the controls. I tried to mask my cackle as a cough. This too will pass, I thought. Soon it will be onward and upward.

When we were alone, I warned her, just wait. But with that warning, the jets made their way back down to my booty. I was hysterical. I wasn’t quite sure how to stop it. Did I even want to? When was the last time I laughed so hard?

I left the jets running, surrendering to my silliness. I’d look over at my friend each time it hit my butt and we’d both laugh. Finally, when I was down to 2 minutes left, I decided enough was enough. I pushed a bunch of buttons and managed an anti-tension redirect to my neck and shoulders.

But the memory lived on. We laughed about the booty massager all night and even today. I walked into the gift shop on my way out of the resort hoping for the shirt they didn’t carry, “I got a hydro-massage. And I LIKED it.” I may make one for my friend’s birthday but don’t tell her.

I had found a missing piece of myself – my silly side. The pause and pampering also filled me with gratitude for being able to be me. I drove away whole.

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What does growth look like, anyway?

It was Friday morning when I looked over at my beloved dwarf ZZ plant. A section of its lush, almost waxy green leaves had turned yellow. On the backside, one leaf was shriveled and weeping green ooze.

When I bought my ZZ six weeks ago, the plant boutique owner explained it had a much more complex name. ZZ was easier for everyone. I didn’t ask about it. My question was: “can I really not kill this plant?” I didn’t have a good track record with growing anything.

He assured me all I had to do was water it every two to three weeks. I’ve followed every instruction he gave me. I waited until the soil was completely dry for watering. I took it out of its decorative dish and let it drain in its planter in the sink.

Yet, it looked like my love for my ZZ was unrequited. It was giving up on life in my office. Was I killing it with my stressful vibes over the past week? Did I forget to rotate it for equal morning sunlight across all the leaves? That was just something I tacked on out of care, not based on any expert recommendations.

I snapped some photos and sent them to the plant boutique. I hoped they really meant it when they said call or message us any time with questions. I got a response within hours. When all the basic troubleshooting failed, I was asked to bring it in for an in-person triage. I drove my ZZ there that afternoon.

“Hi, I’m the ZZ slayer. Your most needy customer,” I said greeting the woman who co-owned the boutique.

“You’re too funny. It’s no problem. We’re here to help,” she assured me.

I handed over my ZZ unsure whether asking for help was a sign of my personal progress or hopelessness. She rotated it around and poked at the leaves. She gently bent a stalk and said, “You see this? This is new growth right here.”

“What about the rest that’s dying? I’m killing it aren’t I?”

She smiled. “I’m going to pull out this yellow section. It probably broke away from the roots in transit long before you brought it home. It happens sometimes.”

I asked about the oozing side. There were no bugs or diseases. She clipped the bad leaf and told me to keep an eye on it. I could clip to the stalk if any other leaves started to shrivel. But the diagnosis was I hadn’t done anything wrong.

“Your plant is thriving,” she said.

When I got home, I busted through the front door and shared the news with my husband: “My ZZ is thriving.”

And then I realized, so was I.  It had been a tough week wrestling through critiques of my 20-page memoir submission. I had gone through everything from weepy-leaf stage to burnout. But stepping back from it all – the fear, judgment, and doubt – I was growing. The process just wasn’t always pretty.

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Making mediocrity

My shiny, new stainless steel espresso machine arrived two days ago. I picked it out from a gift catalog for my 10 years of corporate service. I wasn’t going to get it. My three-year-old wanted the ice cream machine or binoculars. But I didn’t want to ever clean that ice cream machine or find a home for the binoculars we’d never use. My service, my gift, I eventually reasoned.

I haven’t owned an espresso machine in 15+ years but I remember loving it. I’d make mochas with the perfect blend of chocolate and caffeination. That was long before latte art with designs I couldn’t make with a marker, let alone milk. I wasn’t striving for that though. My mission was convenience: a mid-day cappuccino at home. Nothing fancy, just the simple joys.

I thought I was ready after a trip to the grocery store yesterday. I bought the espresso – some discounted organic, fairtrade bean from a brand I never heard of – and sprung for the “barista collection” premium oat milk.

I whipped out the espresso machine directions. I hate directions but I’d hate the plastic taste of a never-used machine more. I brewed water as instructed and then I packed my espresso into the filter to start work on my cappuccino.

The machine roared. Espresso rained down into one of two mugs I own that was short enough to fit under the spouts. And then it was on to steaming my oat milk in the other short mug because the stainless-steel pitcher I thought I owned was clearly long gone.

The steamer hissed and threatened to spritz me with oat milk as I dipped it to varying depths. When I thought the milk was foamy enough, I poured the espresso over the steamed milk. Yes, I got this backwards but created an art masterpiece that could be called “dog piddle in milk.”

It didn’t taste much better. My cappuccino was mediocre at best. It lacked depth. It lacked creaminess. It held the appeal and quality of a McDonald’s cappuccino – a drink defined by ingredients, not taste. A few sips in, I decided I’d box up the machine and give it to someone on our local “buy nothing” online community who could use it properly.

I drank more. It wasn’t good but it wasn’t that bad. It was an experience – a mini-adventure in my kitchen. If I could stomach the mess and the so-so attempts, I might get to something much better. Maybe I’d even watch a YouTube video or two for education.

I ordered better espresso beans on my sister’s expert recommendation, a proper stainless-steel pitcher and a gorgeous earthy green mug made by hand. I will try again another day just like with the messy memoir I’m writing.

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Seahorsin’ Around

Try this right now: Be a seahorse. Stand on one leg and let the other float off the ground behind you. Tuck your elbows into your ribs. Extend your forearms straight ahead. And start wiggling your fingers.

seahorse-e1501961886918.jpgThis was the very first pose I did during a three-day yin yoga workshop earlier this week. “Chi, chi,” our leader chanted, encouraging even more life force into our seahorse. I stared in bewilderment at the yin founder himself, Paulie Zink. He and his workshop were nothing like I expected.

How did the art of stillness turn into the art of silliness? And weren’t we supposed to be glued to the mat in solemn, long holds accompanied by the sound of our breath?

He reminded us again and again, “yin isn’t dead yoga.” We flowed. We paused and allowed. We emulated the elements. We embraced our animal spirits.

My seahorse turned into a parading penguin. The next day I crawled like a bear while transforming my breath into low growls. I learned to move steady like earth, flow like water, spring like wood, hop like fire and be rigid like metal.

I had signed up for the course to learn to be quieter, slower, and more mindful. And Master Zink taught me these things by encouraging me to be more alive. Alive with joy. Alive with energy. And most of all, alive with feeling.

Because there is stillness in motion. And when you really feel, you’ll find you’re really present. And when you let go of trying so hard – letting go of what a pose should look like – you discover how quickly ease and joy blossom.

These lessons however simple have changed my world on and off the mat. (These along with “T-rex” pose, which is kind of like a stomping seahorse advancing forward, because how can you not smile while doing this?)

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A Paddle & Perspective

During my standup paddleboard outing this morning, my companion found herself in the middle of the lake without a paddle. Somewhere in between doing our yoga poses, it had silently glided overboard.

I loaned her mine as we started our search, circling the nearby area to no avail. I couldn’t believe how calmly she accepted it was lost as we gazed across the choppy waters to our launch point. The winds were still making paddling a bit of a challenge.

I looked back at the single paddle for the two of us and I told her to keep it. I had no problem laying on top of the board and pretending to be a surfer chasing the next big wave.

And so we started our journey back to shore, letting go of the missing paddle that was supposed to float. A few strokes in, I saw something pale yellow bobbing up ahead – right at my eye level. “The paddle,” I cheered.

In the afternoon, I went into my home office to write. I had a sense that today was the day to open the piece I had been struggling with for months, which I haven’t touched for weeks. And it was – something was different, something clicked. I got further in this new draft than in the dozen or so before it.

Just like with the missing paddle, in letting go, the perspective that was needed emerged. By letting go instead of forcing, I am now finding my way both in that challenging piece and back here on my blog after quite the hiatus.

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I almost cheated…

I almost cheated today, day 12 of my 40-day yoga challenge. I stared longingly at the Moscow mule cocktail I wanted to order, imagining what the delightful blend of bourbon, ginger and lime juice would taste like. But then I realized how big a difference there would be between cheating and failing.

The cheat would have been premeditated. I knew the sequence of events that would follow. I’d get a little tipsy off my one drink since I so rarely have one. My short-lived laughter would fade into exhaustion. And my yoga practice would fall into the absolute minimum category. It’d be a quick restorative legs-up-wall pose or maybe a downward dog.

Both options would technically be acceptable for the challenge. There’s no time requirement for my daily practice even though the overachiever in me has been addicted to fitting in as many power yoga classes as possible. But I knew I could do better than the minimum. I knew that for me today the minimum was not only a cop out, it wasn’t what I needed.


When I passed on the drink, my thoughts immediately turned to the gym. I could still get my cardio in with a late-evening session. My husband was headed there. Why not join him? With so much yoga, I hadn’t gotten a lot of outside cardio done either.

But that was a cop out too. It was the same as the drink. I would push myself into complete exhaustion, pretend it was a good reason for a super abbreviated yoga practice and given the frantic pace of the week leave little energy for tomorrow.

So I did what I find most difficult to do. I opted out of the gym. I ventured into my home office and selected my most challenging practice – something slow and restorative. And when I stepped off my mat feeling better than I have all day, I wondered why I had fought so hard against what I needed most.

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Seizing the New Year: The Great Pit Bull Adventure

I had plans to start 2016 on the slow side. No sweeping change. A leisurely coffee. A little tidying up. And then I’d get back to the novel I’d been enjoying during this past week of vacation.

But my sweet Elliot had other plans for embracing the new year – ones that followed along the lines of “seize the pit bull day” and “find your adventure.” Gone was the dog of 2015 who patiently stayed in the doorway while I put out the recyclables. He looked like the same innocent, home-loving pooch as he did last week, at least for the 20 seconds before he bolted.

Before I knew it Elliot was on the lam, dashing across the front yard and into our neighbor’s on a mission to make his first morning of the year his most exciting yet. I made my first mistake of the year running after him in my fleece sleep sheep pajamas. It was game on for Elliot – keep away from the parents.

My husband shouted for me to stop chasing him. I shouted maniacally for my beloved pooch who was venturing farther and farther away, making sweeping circles from one backyard to the next and sprinting like a jackrabbit.

ElliotI asked my husband to grab treats but Elliot was no fool. He’d snatch one up and continue on the ridiculous game while my head filled with visions of traffic coming down the road. I swapped my chase with a slower trot to keep him in my sights. The one thing that never came to mind was trying out the “totally reliable recall” training, which we shamefully hadn’t practiced in months.

But luckily there’s one thing Elliot still loved more than being a completely free-range pooch. He loves new people and couldn’t resist greeting our concerned neighbor who had come out into her driveway after hearing the commotion. As I shouted, “be careful he’s a jumper” given his tendency to try to get his paws on every person’s shoulders to move in for the kiss, she slowly bent down and said hello.

She was the every bit of calm I wasn’t so Elliot wasn’t the least bit suspecting of being apprehended. While she held his attention, I swiftly scooped up the nearly 60-pound canine rebel and carried him back home while offering a chorus of thanks.

Elliot was apparently tuckered out by the adventure and spent the rest of the day snoozing under a pile of blankets on the couch. And I returned to my novel as initially planned while sneaking glances of the now-angelic bull and soaking in the reminder to be more careful and calm.


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Losing the Way

I got there again – that place where I become a grumpy, frantic lunatic that just oozes negativity. The one who can’t remember how she was ever happy, loses her connection to creativity, and doubts everything in her life. And while I was there, I didn’t realize how far I’d driven myself beyond exhaustion.

Luckily, my über patient fiancé was kind enough to treat me like a 33-year-old toddler having a tantrum. He knew that with lots of rest and a yoga session I’d regain my much cheerier self.

DSCN1032I felt like an abysmal failure since my inner monster had resurfaced with a vengeance. It had been a tumultuous few weeks but I found little satisfaction in the excuses.

The why didn’t matter because this little episode served as glaring proof that I can’t change. I can read all my wonderful Buddhism texts, meditate, find beauty in my morning walks, hell even find beauty while nervously pacing outside a hospital for news, but I couldn’t stop the freight train of negativity.

But then my Thursday night hot yoga session revived me.  In my post-practice haze, I started thinking about the many terrific quotes on failure, especially the wise words of Ralph Waldo Emerson: “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”

I had always thought those words were reserved for the bigger failures of life like the screenplay that had fallen short of acceptance and my most disastrous relationship. But this relapse has taught me that the smaller, repeat failures matter just as much because you still need to pick yourself up. It’s the only way to live boldly and fully – you have to be willing to fail repeatedly and, most importantly, risk failing bigger.

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Time & Intention

On those three nights or so I glue myself to the chair to write, I commit to putting in the time. I literally set a timer for 15 minutes knowing that whatever happens there will be a cheery musical symphony announcing my liberation.

I remind myself that it’s just about showing up. I don’t have to write marvelous scenes or concoct exotic sentences. There’s no set topic and no commitment to writing a blog post. All I have to do is keep that pen moving across the page.

Time IntentionBut it’s not enough. My words never escape from the lined pages of my journal. They just dwell, bound by their lack of significance and purpose.

Lately, I’ve been asking myself: why isn’t this process working? Why am I at such a loss for inspiration? Why for the first time I can remember do I feel like I have nothing interesting to say?

Yesterday, I started thinking about some of my other passions – my workouts and the countless hours I spend with my pit bull companion. Sure, my workouts like my writing are usually time (or mile) bound. But when have I ever showed up saying I’ll be here for the duration but I’m not going to push myself to work hard? Never. I show up when my legs feel like concrete, when my workout is postponed to after 9 p.m. and even when I’m simply exhausted but give it everything I got.

And on those occasions when I set a timer for Elliot’s morning playtime so I can make it to work on time, when have I ever just said I just need to toss the ball for 10 minutes? Never. I give him all of my energy and enthusiasm, shouting “wild and crazy bully” and “torro, puppy, torro” chasing him around the yard before my coffee has fully kicked in.

My relationship with my writing needs to be the same. It’s time to stop taking the “just show up” mantra to the extreme, using it as proof that I’m trying while dodging the story that creeps into my pages every week.

It’s time to lightly sketch out a path forward and actually show up with the genuine intention to create, rather than cleverly writing to avoid it.

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An Encounter with the Sunday Night Yoga Critic

Sunday night yoga – a time to get present and toss aside anxiety about the transition from weekend to work week. Yes, this was my intention. But what I found on the mat was a super judgmental freak. I’ve noticed her before – butting in occasionally, criticizing my crows or shaming me for not attempting my headstand.

But yesterday she just wouldn’t shut up. My practice literally became a repeated procession of pose and response. Here let me give you a few:

Downward facing dog, dip your heels down to the floor. And she said, “It’s just not anatomically possible for you to ever reach the floor. Years of yoga and you’re still a good inch away.”

Yoga matWarrior two, reach your arm under to take the bind and reach your chest to the sky. “I can’t hold this. I lifted weights yesterday. My legs are shot from all the squats and lunges.”

Half moon, stack your hips and extend your leg with energy. “I was so much better at this last year. I was graceful, now I’m awkward. I’m wobbling.”

Wide leg straddle, reach the crown of your head to the floor and take the inversion if it’s in your practice. “I’m still not there. I can’t believe I’m still not there. I used to do this but I can’t. It doesn’t feel possible.”

Pigeon, send your breath where you need it. “I can’t stand this. I really can’t stand this today. I normally can but I can’t stay here. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.”

Yes, that witch was completely merciless. She kept talking even though no one else was commenting on my yoga practice. There were no adjustments. No prompts to find my edge. No praise of other students. Nothing except a coached flow of poses.

But I’m glad she came out with such intensity her chatter couldn’t be ignored. Who knows how many times a comment here or there went unnoticed as they were ingrained as truths about my capabilities and limits? So I’m grateful for the obnoxious voice that disrupted my Sunday night to take me another step farther on the path to mindfulness where I can permanently remind myself she isn’t real and doesn’t matter.

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