Six Months Out

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The dogs waited patiently in the way back, tuckered out from a trip to the park, while we sat in the parked car and talked. It was a shared routine that had been absent from our lives for most of the past six months. But last Sunday, as the early evening sun shined a bit longer and the temperature released its chilly grip, lingering just felt right. We had stories, thoughts, and insights to share, so we held this moment for one another—a volley of talking and listening—as the sky changed from blue to grey.

And then he said it.

 “I miss this, you know.”

And I nodded in agreement.

This being the camaraderie of and conversation with someone who knows you so incredibly well, who was by your side through two formative decades of your life. Someone with whom you made big life decisions; who had your back through cycles of flourish and struggle; who knows your health, your wealth, your dreams, and your fears. Who laughed with you, cried with you, ate cookies with you . . .

Having a friend to talk to—and who will listen to you—about all the big and little, brilliant and mundane things in your life is a gift. What makes it priceless is its dependability. I don’t take that responsibility lightly—or for granted. I’m still figuring out how to gracefully move forward while carrying with me the healthy and vital pieces of my past. It’s a lot to juggle—and no small feat. But I’m committed to seeing it through. It’s what I do.

The season is changing, both literally and figuratively. Boston’s long winter has finally come to an end. It’s time to shed those protective layers. Like the crocuses and daffodils that are poking their heads up from the earth, I, too, have been in a gestation period.

These last six months have been abundant ones with their life lessons and experiences. I’ve gotten to know myself—and voice my feelings, opinions, hopes, and desires. I’m traveling, striking up conversations, connecting with people, and smiling more. My heart has been reawakened and my spirits are sky high. I see nothing but possibility and potential. I’ve found my way through those dark, challenging times and am better—wiser, stronger, more comfortable in my own skin—than ever before. Simply put: life is good.

As time has passed, I’ve welcomed new people into my heart: a dear friend; a charming boyfriend, too. I’ve strengthened existing friendships and gained a more conscious respect and admiration for all of the people who’ve played a part in my life, including—and especially—my ex.

In the days following our split, a coworker had suggested that I put a six-month reminder on my Outlook calendar. She wanted to be sure I’d remember to pause and reflect on how much has changed—how much I’ve grown and how much I’ve learned—since then. I stumbled across that reminder a couple of weeks ago. In the notes section of that calendar reminder, I wrote:

“Celebrate how far you’ve come and how exciting these times are that lie ahead. Just love. Just joy. Just truth and trust.”

Indeed, I’ve noticed the incremental changes in my life. But the big, sweeping differences? Quite simply, they astound me. How did I do it? No doubt, with a little help from my friends—and a whole lot of deep-dive introspection, too. A whole, whole lot.

I am excited for the times that lie ahead. I’ve learned to step into uncertainty. I’ve learned to see the silver linings. I’ve learned how liberating it feels to speak—and act—from the heart. And most of all, I’ve learned that there is no finish line. The journey is—and has always been—the destination.

Soundtrack: “Half Acre” by Hem


Next Stop: Maybe

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So there’s “yes” and there’s “no”—which are like those slender metal bookends you see on library shelves. Their purpose is to form a boundary. But then there’s everything in between. Nobody goes to the library for the bookends; you go for the books, right?

Same thing goes for life. It’s the mysteries and the adventures and the romances and the dramas and the comedies—cookbooks, travel guides, and how-to books, too—that are where the living takes place. The “yeses” and the “nos” in life are the edges we bump up against that nudge us back into the richness and variety and possibility. The good stuff. The “maybes.”

So, perhaps my thoughts from earlier this year on getting to yes need an epilogue.

It’s admirable and awesome and totally warranted to have my sights set on getting to yes. But the only way I’ll fully understand what yes is, is if I’m not afraid to bump up against the “no” boundary every now and again. It’s an invisible, shape-shifting boundary, of course—as is the “yes” boundary. But finding a comfortable boundary to cling to is not my goal in life—like it was my goal at that one swim lesson I went to when I was six. Having a stronghold on safety and security might look like winning from the outside, but that’s not what getting to yes is all about.

Getting to yes is about exploring the stacks. It’s about getting out of my comfort zone. It’s about not judging a book by its cover or jumping to the last page to see if it’s worth my while. Getting to yes is a sometimes murky, sometimes joyous, ongoing process. There is no timetable. No task list. No map. It’s just life—lived one rewarding, one eye-opening experience at a time.

Soundtrack: “Freewill” by Rush


Time to Believe in What You Know

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Back in high school, I had exactly one driving lesson with my father. It was a barren, bright morning in the vacant lot of a nearby state park. I learned quickly that I did not have a knack for making that big ol’ Buick smoothly stop and go. Apparently, despite there being two pedals on the floor–and us drivers (and wannabe drivers) having two feet–I wasn’t allowed to use them at the same time. This was a fact that boggled my 15-and-three-quarters-old brain.

Still, I drove around the parking lot that way–left foot stop, right foot go. It an unpleasant experience all around. Jerky and stressful and confusing for us both. Being that my feet were largely hidden in the wheel well, I continued with this approach, even after being told otherwise. Not only did two pedals and two feet seem like it should be a given, the stop-go-stop-go technique felt like the safer option to me.

Eventually, I enrolled in driver’s ed and learned the right way to get around. But it took me a while to shed that instinct to tap the brake at the littlest flicker of concern. Now I could retrace the last 30-plus years of my life and probably point out hundreds of instances of me tapping the metaphorical brakes. Or I could just fast-forward to the latest and most relevant one: moving forward in my personal life.

I’m all for minding the signs and paying attention to the signals–literally and metaphorically. But I can feel that old instinct to hover my foot over the brake, to insert little halts when unnecessary, creeping in–just as life starts to get a little more unexpected. A little more interesting. Riding the brake is a fear-based action. Sure, it may seem wise at first, but it’s no way to smoothly move forward.

There’s a time and a place for caution and there’s a time and a place for letting go of the restraints. I’ve decided to let go of the restraints.

In the days following my breakup, I replaced the family photo on my desk at work with this quote:

“Step into uncertainty–today and a little bit every day. That is how an epic life is lived.”

At first these words served a bit of a fake-it-’til-you-make-it purpose. But after a few weeks of reading and rereading these words, I believed them. I embodied them. I began to welcome the mystery that lay ahead. And now–that feeling of being smack-dab in the middle of a Choose Your Own Adventure book is the most alive I’ve felt in a long, long time.

I haven’t a clue what next turn of the page has in store for me, but I can tell you it’s an exhilarating way to be living my life right now. It reminds me of the long, winding road that led to my old neighborhood back where I lived in those early days of driving. It dipped and curved endlessly and erratically, like the scalloped edges of Valentine made by a child. Once I became comfortable behind the wheel, there was nothing I loved more than touring all of that road’s curves, never really knowing what lay around the next bend but trusting myself to handle it all with grace. Without obsessing over the brake.

In a moment today when my head and my heart were having a bit of a private debate over the brake metaphor, I came across this piece on the HBR blog: How to Have a Year That Counts. Its simple, elegant reminders to (1) start with your dreams, (2) walk toward the fire, (3) venture beyond certainty, and (4) let life happen were all the confirmation I needed that yes, it is time to get out of my head and experience life outside of my comfort zone. It’s time to take my foot off the brake. That’s where my story will start to get interesting . . .

Soundtrack: “Shine” by Alexi Murdoch


Getting to Yes

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I came to yoga looking for an easy way out. I was a junior in college and needed a gym credit–and bowling was already full. So, yoga it was for me. Dressed in leggings and the requisite ’90s flannel shirt, I made my way to the wrestling room in my campus’ athletic center. It was a windowless, padded, smelly cell of a space. I took my seat on the floor and waited to be told what to do so that I could follow the instructions, earn my credit, and get back to my life . . .

Funny the way those unexpected little things grab ya. 2014 will mark 20 years that I’ve been practicing yoga. Aside from writing (and reading, walking, and breathing), I haven’t stuck with anything in my life for that long. What started out as a easy way to earn a gym credit has grown to become one of the most important ways–mentally, even more so than physically–that I choose to take care of myself.

The mental benefits took much longer to cultivate. Or maybe they just took longer for me to realize. Whatever the case, their lessons have been both subtle and profound. My yoga practice has taught me:

  • To fall gracefully, and to enter into new things with grace, too.
  • That perfection is an unattainable moving target I shouldn’t be aiming for in the first place.
  • That feeling sensation–that experiencing experience–is the real beauty of it all.
  • That my body is a living, breathing thing. Embody it! Embrace it. Respect it.
  • To feel my heart beat, to quiet my mind with inhales and exhales, and to use these tools to return to my home base.
  • To go at my own pace, and not to worry about comparing my trajectory to anyone else’s.

I know there are plenty of other ways for people to learn these lessons. But for me, there’s just something about using a physical activity in order to tap into something mental. So, *that’s* what that whole mind-body thing is all about . . .

For the last four years, I’ve consciously kicked off my new year with my radiant friend Chanel‘s soul-stirring class. We flow, we stretch, we restore, and we rock out a little bit to one of her awesome playlists. At the end of it all, we grab a sparkly slip of paper and an envelope. On that paper, we jot down for ourselves just one word that we’re going to carry with us into the new year. Last year, I chose “truth,”–a word that has proven itself to be so daunting, so eye-opening, and so (deep exhale) right.

This year, I am going with “yes”–a word that came to me when I spotted a metallic wine-colored tote bag at the Cole Haan outlet last week. I’ve spent a lifetime already saying “no” to things. Not just “thing” things. To people, to opportunities, to possibilities. To my body, my soul, my heart.

I bought the bag–and a matching cosmetics case. I almost talked myself out of going to the outlets in the first place. Crowds. Sales. Chaos. Stuff. But I said “yes”–and then I said “yes” again. And then, as I drove home, I thought about all of the things I can’t wait to say “yes” to in 2014.

And when I feel the “nos” start to creep back in, I’ve got all those tools listed above that will remind me how to get to “yes.” Incidentally, there’s a negotiations book called Getting To Yes–and every time I see it on a bookshelf, my brain translates it to “getting toys.”

I sort of think saying “yes” is like getting a toy. It’s fun. It’s new. It brings about a smile, yes?

Soundtrack: “Blackbird” by Paul McCartney


I Climbed a Mountain and Turned Around

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A week after A and I called it, I was putting in an offer on a condo. A gorgeous condo with 10-foot ceilings, recessed lights and dimmer switches, and top-down Levolor blinds. Did I mention that it was a two-minute walk to one of my favorite yoga studios, too? Well, it was. Even the wall colors looked like an exact match to the Ben Moore Manhattan tan and sea glass that filled my current home.

I told myself–and my realtor–that I was just looking. Researching. And that I wasn’t ready to fall in love right away. With a house–or another man. But this place had everything I wanted. (Read: everything I was already used to, everything I associated with comfort.) I tried my best to ignore my inner Veruca Salt, but I was determined to make this place mine. I wanted it now. So, my realtor and I reviewed comps, talked strategy, and I scrambled to get myself pre-approved, even though my down payment was locked up in my current home.

Apparently, 11 other buyers wanted it now, too. And even with my endearing letter, a best-and-final that was well over asking, and a bank that backed me up, I lost out. I was mentally prepared for this outcome–just as I was prepared for that Friday night conversation a couple months back, but the reality stung. Hard. Now what?

It took a little wallowing before I was able to see that, hidden in this heartbreak was an opportunity. A real golden egg. A day or two later, I got a blast e-mail from Dave Romanelli, the yoga + wine and yoga + chocolate teacher from NYC that I once took a workshop with at Exhale a few years back. The guy who inscribed my copy of his book with “Forever Drakkar” and then gave it a spritz. He was holding his annual Yoga for Foodies retreat in Sedona at Mii Amo in December. The retreat that I had read up on every year since and passed over because it was a bit pricey–not to mention far, far away. I signed up that very day.

In the six weeks leading up to my trip, I started to read up on Sedona and chatted with friends who had been there–both to the town, as well as to the all-inclusive destination spa/resort where the retreat was being held. And apparently, I had just booked myself a four-day trip to heaven on earth. A sage-scented, red rock-ensconced heaven where a handsome man would greet me with a necklace made out of ghost beads by a Native American elder, presents would be laid out on my bed every night, and my dessert would await me by the fireplace in my bedroom after I returned from my evening massage. Which I would follow up with a dip in the hot tub under a starry sky, a glass of wine resting on a ledge behind my shoulder. That kind of heaven.

That kind of heaven also included some decadent spa treatments like facials and clay wraps, and some powerful, emotion-releasing ones, too. One of these was a reiki healing attunement. With nothing more than her two warm, healing hands, Dana conducted and released the doubts and worries and uncertainties that had been caught inside me. Since the break-up. Since well before then. Palpitations that knew no better.

Words can’t do justice to the experience, but it was a release like I have never felt before. Like a door that had been sealed shut for so, so long was now able to swing wide open. From my heart center to my hip bones, all I felt was space. Lightness. Freedom. Right then and there, in this body of mine that I’ve been carting around for all these years, I found myself at home.

Soundtrack: “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac

 

 

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