The Year Of Us

While many people do their reflecting and goal-setting at the end of each calendar year, I typically wait until my birthday at the end of January to look back at the year that has passed and to make my plans for the year that is beginning for me.

The year that followed my turning thirty-six broke the mold of all years that came before. It broke me.

And now that my birthday is, once again, here, I find that I don’t want to do things as I have previously done them.

I don’t want to look back and reflect on the year I became an only child. I don’t want to examine all of the ways this year has changed me. I don’t want to make silly lists of all of the things I plan to do on this next trip around the sun (Get back in shape! Visit new countries! Find life’s purpose!!)

My windows of time now are shorter, more fragile. Long term reflecting and planning have both been abandoned out of necessity rather than any rational choice.

Instead of ruminating about all that has occurred since my last birthday, I can only reminisce about my most recent experience. Instead of formulating plans for the upcoming year, I can only arrange for today.

*

When I booked my trip to Guatemala, life looked a lot different. It was a new country to visit, and an opportunity to connect with friends, but it really didn’t extend past that for me. Once it came time to leave, however, the circumstances of my world had so drastically changed that I was now assigning a new weight to everything, counting on each trip to save me. I worried that Guatemala, or I, might crumble under this pressure.

I arrived in Quetzaltenango (Xela to locals) with three suitcases full of clothing and random belongings to distribute to the children and women at Education and Hope, an organization founded by my friend Julie Coyne that brings access to education to impoverished children in nearby areas of the Western Highlands. Specifically, they provide scholarships, bus tickets, school supplies, clothing, day care, food, and love to the Educación y Esperanza family.

What they actually do can only be encompassed in one word: miraculous.

I was intimidated by the closeness I witnessed, each person who walked through the doors of the Proyecto offering a hug and kiss to Julie, her husband Gordon, me. I was intimidated by my elementary grasp of Spanish, and what to say to people who spoke no English. I was intimidated by the enormity of what happens there. As the week went on, I tried to memorize all of the faces and names. I didn’t succeed but I managed with a few.

*

On my last night in Xela, Lorena walks with me to set up my ride out of town the next morning. I am taken care of here, never left to fend for myself, and Lorena takes over this duty happily tonight.

I ask her how long she has worked at Education and Hope, and she tells me she has been there for twelve years, first as a student and now working there. She loves it, and loves the people. They are my second family, she says. I ask her if she has children. She tells me she has nine siblings and that as the second oldest, that is enough work for her.

She asks me if I have brothers or sisters.

It’s the first time someone has asked me since my sister died. It’s the question I have been most dreading each time I meet someone new. I anticipated it coming up on a first date, or maybe even a job interview at home. Instead, it hits me in Spanish, with the force of a sledgehammer. Tienes hermanos?

I say no, only me. But that doesn’t feel right, so I think of how I can say this in Spanish. Mi hermana está muerta. Mi hermana murió. Mi hermana no está vivo.

Sometimes even when you don’t want to know the words, your body, your mind, your heart still knows them.

Lo siento, she says. I can feel how deeply she means it. She pauses for a moment while I blink back tears, before touching my arm and telling me, Now you have a second family here, too.

On my final morning in Xela, I spend thirty minutes with the smallest of the children, letting them climb all over me, playing peek-a-boo, pretending to sleep while they shriek with laughter above me. I don’t worry about the language barrier anymore. There is no language for their smiles, and no miscommunication in their fierce hugs. The love they offer me is simple and crosses all cultural divides. As it is happening, I think I have maybe never been this happy.

It’s nearly time for me to leave.

I make my way to the kitchen to begin saying goodbye to the ladies working there, who have fed me so lovingly all week. The little kids are napping, and the bigger kids are across the street in class. The kitchen is almost empty; I discover it is because all of the women are waiting in the main room, in a receiving line of sorts, to send me off.

They each hug me, and somehow I have no trouble understanding the things they say to me, my Spanish coming through in a way it hasn’t all week. Thank you for sharing your heart with us. Please come back again to see us. We love you.

Rosenda is there, one of the younger women, hugging me intensely, before drawing back and putting her hand firmly on my heart while she looks straight into my eyes. Tu tienes un gran corazón.

I cry, because I can’t fathom how she can see this, especially with the big fault line running through its center. Until I realize that she sees the fissure too, and maybe loves me just a little more because of it. I cry harder. For Kelly, for my parents, for the women here, for all of our collective losses, for myself.

And a tiny piece of the crack fuses back together again. Not healed, not like before, but held together somehow from the purest form of love I have been shown in this special place. When I walk outside and find all of the students standing in the street yelling, Adios Katie, before running to hug and kiss me goodbye, I understand that this is the kind of day worthy of reflection. This is the kind of day worthy of planning. This is the kind of day you learn how to change someone’s life.

*

This is the year I turn 37.

This is the year that will remain largely unplanned.

This is the year that I turn the front facing camera in my mind around, and point it outwards.

This is the year of ordinary and extraordinary miracles.

This is the year of doing more, for others; of giving back that love I have received.

This is the year of sharing, nurturing, assisting, comforting, trusting, hugging, believing, smiling.

This is the year of love.

 

This is the Year of Us.

 

***To learn more about Education and Hope, or to make a donation (I can make this request, it’s my birthday), please visit http://educationandhope.org/. It is so easy to make a difference in the lives of these wonderful people. Thank you!

Mis nuevos amigos

Mis nuevos amigos

“How Old Is Too Old To Be Single?”

To change the conversation, we had to start the conversation. 

 

The wonderful HuffPost Live asked me to join their discussion earlier today titled “How Old Is Too Old To Be Single?”

I’ve written about turning 35, and not being where I had always planned to be. And I’ve written also about how complicated it can feel, being happy with the life you’ve created, but still yearning for something else.

What has resonated for me the most in publishing these pieces is the feedback from the people who have read them. Those in similar circumstances who saw their own yearnings reflected back, and those with completely opposite circumstances who saw those same reflections. There was no “perfect life”, married or single, it seemed.

It struck me how many people also shared that they hadn’t previously felt comfortable admitting to all of the feelings encompassed by not being who or where or what they thought they should be. The fear, the shame, the sadness, the freedom, the independence, the resignation…all of these feelings a reaction to expectations that age was a marker for something other than years spent on this planet.

One of the ways to start dissolving these stigmas about having to be anything at any specific age is to start talking about them. To start acknowledging that there are other paths, and that straying from the traditional one is not bad, not good, just different and equally acceptable. To start seeking to understand each other, rather than judge what we don’t know. To stop putting pressure on ourselves and on others to conform to a mold that is not one size fits all.

Today’s conversation is hopefully the first of many that will start to lift the veil on how to find happiness in life, regardless of being “a certain age”…or of any particular age at all.

HuffPost Live: How Old Is Too Old To Be Single

"How Old Is Too Old To Be Single"

“How Old Is Too Old To Be Single”

 

xx,

Katie

Confession: I Went To Canyon Ranch, And All I Brought Back Was The T-Shirt…And A Few Life Lessons

I just left the magical enclave known as Canyon Ranch, nestled in the middle of the Berkshires in Lenox, Massachusetts. It was my first visit; it will surely not be my last. One of my closest friends was invited to teach her famous Manifestation workshops there, having introduced them to the resort earlier this year. She was able to bring a guest with her, and I was the unbelievably lucky recipient of her generosity. It was a dream I’d never allowed myself to even have that actually came true. It was five days of relaxing, pampering, healthy-eating, centering bliss.

As I was sitting on the plane on Thursday night, delayed going back home to Los Angeles, a friend asked me what I learned in my time at Canyon Ranch. I was surprised at how quickly I was able to answer her, by how much I had learned in such a short time, by how profoundly I was touched by this place.

Life Lessons from Canyon Ranch:

I cannot resist cookies. Even gluten-free ones, which I was cajoled into trying, and which were surprisingly tasty. I simply could not say no to this dessert after dinner. And after lunch. And after breakfast. Healthy, gourmet food never tasted so good.

I am not as open to new experiences as I would like to be. I really don’t enjoy exercising, if I know that I’m exercising. Disguise the workout in a yoga class, or a picturesque walk and I’m game. Anything with kettleballs, squats, or that dreaded word, cardio? No, thank you, I’ll pass. I’ve come to terms with it. What I did realize, however, while I was avoiding every non-yoga class that Canyon Ranch offered, was that sometimes I do need to push myself more, and to try more new things, or I may really be missing out on discovering something I love. Sometimes, I need to put myself out there and be open to whatever happens.

I am too cautious. I signed up for “Arial Adventures” on Wednesday (aka trying new things), which consisted of a short zip-line and the “giant swing” (essentially a harnessed leap and free-fall off a raised platform). I stood atop the platform, hesitating. I didn’t look over the edge, down to the ground, in fear. The hesitation was not rooted in fear of crashing to the ground. Instead, I stared off in the distance, eager to know what I was facing, struggling to see through to the end of the road before I embarked upon the journey. Watching others before I took my turn. The fear was in not knowing what to expect, in not being able to prepare before leaping. I do this everywhere, it turns out. I prefer to tiptoe into the unknown, so as not to be caught off guard. I prefer to have a map, and clear directions for every route I take. But life’s not like that, is it? There isn’t a map for every situation, there is no way to always be perfectly prepared, and sometimes you just have to take whatever knowledge you do have, and just jump without knowing precisely where you are going to land.

I am not as great at relaxing as I had previously thought. I watched women scuttling around all day, clad in their Lululemon Luon gear, schedules packed with classes, lectures, meals, activities. I thought that I was so much more relaxed, with all of my time spent in front of the fireplace, with a book in hand. But I noticed how much less reading I actually got done on this trip. I saw how distracted I’ve become. I acknowledged how reliant I am on my mobile devices. I understand how imperative it is for me to work on changing this, in getting back to a place where I can put down the phone, put down the tablet, put down the computer and just be.

Restorative yoga is a wonderful aide in being present. Allowing someone to guide you into relaxation is quite effective. Slow, sweet, gentle…you can actually measure your body opening, and relaxing. You can feel the space between the beats of your heart lengthening, and the depth of your breath expanding as it flows all the way down to your toes. You have nowhere else to be, no agenda other than listening to your body, and your breath, and allowing yourself to be present in the moment.

It’s astonishingly easy to be there for the people you love. My friend Jen, the one who brought me to Canyon Ranch, was suffering through the hell of an ectopic pregnancy while we were there. Beyond all of the emotional turmoil that this brought, she started experiencing severe physical pain as soon as she arrived in Massachusetts. Ultimately, she ended up in the emergency room at 5am on Tuesday, facing an insensitive nurse and the fear that her fallopian tube had burst.

I worried that I would not be able to help her. That I wouldn’t know what to do, or how to do it, or if it would be enough. But when it really counted, it was the easiest thing in the world to pick up the phone, to pull the car around, to show up. It meant not always knowing what to say, or what to do, or even if you’re helping at all. But showing up anyway. Because that’s the best of what we can offer each other: showing up.

Most people are searching for something. During one of my visits to the cozy library, I met Cindy. The same age as my mom, she was knitting furiously while whispering the steps to herself. Somehow we began talking. In under an hour, she confided that she wasn’t truly fulfilled or happy, that she didn’t know how to put herself first, and that she just felt there should be “something more” in her life. I could have echoed every sentiment, at half her age and with completely different life circumstances. We are all searching. We are all looking for something. Acknowledging and sharing our search makes us feel less alone, and more likely to make changes that lead to happiness.

There are some truly wonderful people in this world. Like the woman working at the café, who remembered how I like my tea, and snuck me extra cookies when I left. Or those who asked, every time they saw me, how Jen was feeling, or offered to bring her food or read to her. Or the ER Doctor who we called awesome, who told us he was just there to get the job done—but he’d take the awesome, too. Or my fellow Arial Adventurers, who encouraged each other to take that leap off the platform, who cheered as we all flew down the zip-line, strangers who had become a team. Fantastic people come to this special place.

From the fog rolling in over the distant lake, to the trees changing colors all around us, to the rain that blew sideways in the wind, it was an almost unreal time. There was a dreamlike quality to it all.

Thank you, Jen, for making this week possible. For pushing me to dream bigger. Thank you, Canyon Ranch, for far exceeding any expectation I could have imagined, and for bringing together everything and everyone to make this dream a reality. I am truly blessed and grateful.

CanyonRanch

PS-see the pictures and videos on my Facebook page for more insight into this incredible place!

https://www.facebook.com/katiedevinewriter

xx,

Katie 

Speak Your Truth

 “No, it’s fine.” 

I could hear the words coming out of my mouth, a common refrain, contradictory in grammar as well as what I really meant by it. Yet, there it was, over and over again, in what sounded uncannily like my voice. To the boyfriend who broke his promises. No, it’s fine. To the family member who wanted everything to just be okay, when it clearly wasn’t. No, it’s fine. To the friend who simply stopped showing up, until she needed something. No, it’s fine.

It was like the chorus of a song that kept repeating, on a radio station whose channel I didn’t know how to change. No, it’s fine, it’s fine, it’s fiiiiiiiiiine.

It was actually kind of easy to utter this phrase. To put what I imagined other people needed before what I needed. To be someone I thought people wanted instead of what was true to me. It was so important that I was seen as “good”. Good girlfriend, good student, good daughter, good sister, good friend, good employee, good everything to everyone.

I’m not sure when it started, this burying of myself to accommodate others. When I was a kid, I was often the outspoken—okay, bossy—one. When I was in high school, I was so singularly focused on becoming an opera singer that I did what was right for me and to further that goal, even if it meant not being cool, or not having boyfriends. I knew, and expressed, what I wanted. 

But somewhere along the way, there was a shift. Perhaps it was subtle at first, so that I didn’t even notice it. Maybe it became more prominent as people began responding. What I do know is that once I felt the acceptance that came along with pleasing people, it was difficult to stop. It became a snowball rolling down a mountain, gathering size and speed until it was bigger than I was, until it completely enveloped me, until it–and I–was was unable to stop.

When you say “No, it’s fine” often enough, you almost start to believe it.

It became second nature. I wasn’t even aware of doing it until someone I didn’t know, someone I only met via phone, pointed it out to me. Her point, in doing so, was that I could never be truly happy unless I was putting myself first. And to put myself first, I needed to start speaking the truth.

We’re never really told that we’re supposed to put ourselves before others. Quite the opposite actually. Selflessness is preached, and giving more is expected. Kindness above all, of course. Why did it take thirty-five years for someone to tell me that it’s okay—no, it’s crucial—to put myself and my well-being first? That is doesn’t mean I’m selfish, or unkind. And why did the idea of doing it create such an intense panic in me?

What if I started expressing my truth, and people didn’t like it? What if they didn’t like me? 

The doubt plagued me, and paralyzed me initially. I almost let myself off the hook: the boyfriend is long gone, along with the friend who wasn’t there for me and easily faded out of my life, so I didn’t need to confront them with my feelings. But my family wasn’t going anywhere. They would need to be the test cases for my honesty, even if it still scared me.  

And then I got into my car one morning, after struggling through yet another night with my fears about speaking up, and the Sara Bareilles song “Brave” was queued up on my iPod. This time, it was a song worth repeating:

And since your history of silence 

Won’t do you any good.

Did you think it would?

Let your words be anything but empty.

Why don’t you tell them the truth?

Say what you wanna say,

And let the words fall out, honestly.

I wanna see you be brave.

And I knew: it was time.

So I tried it. The first conversation was most difficult. There were tears, and bewilderment, and anger, and defensiveness. And a few times, I almost fell back on my previous refrain, that old familiar chorus: No, it’s fine. But really, it wasn’t fine, and being able to finally say it out loud felt like lifting a giant rock from my shoulders. Speaking my truth didn’t change the facts of the situation. It didn’t change the outcome of events. But it changed me. And ultimately, that’s all I can really change anyway. Ultimately, that will be enough.

Change takes time. Speaking up requires determination. Being honest takes courage. But, at the end of the day, our truth is all we have.

Use your voice. Speak your truth. And in Sara’s words, “I wanna see you be brave.”

xx,

Katie

Follow Your Excitement

I looked up from my seat in row seven when I heard the gruff, “Excuse me.”  I started to get up so my seatmate could pass by me to get to his seat, but he just pushed past me without making eye contact. My heart sank a bit about having to be in such close proximity to this seemingly rude man for the next six hours—until I saw his fingers gripping the armrest and knew that I wasn’t next to a rude man, but a very nervous flyer.

He hadn’t flown in five years, he explained, but he couldn’t pass up this trip. He was flying cross-country for a work project that he took specifically because it would bring him to New Jersey, where he would be able to visit the largest model railroad in the world. His passion was toy trains, and he was invited to come to New Jersey to visit this railroad and repair some remote control problem that only he knew how to fix. I remarked that he was very dedicated to this group, arranging this extensive trip, especially with his aversion to flying. He looked me in the eye, paused so that I leaned in, expectant, and told me:

“You have to follow your excitement.”

And it hit me, in that way that the thing you need to hear always does, like a ton of bricks. Follow your excitement.

For over ten years, I lived in New York City, arguably one of the most exciting cities in the world. Theater, bars, art, shopping, restaurants…all mere steps from my front door. Yet when I describe my time in New York, “exciting” is never one of the words I use.  My associations with New York are much different.

Hard

Chaotic

Intense

Draining

Overwhelming

Never once have I used the word exciting, because for me, the word didn’t fit.

I knew within a year of living in Manhattan that it wasn’t the right place for me. I was living by myself for the first time in a brownstone studio on the Upper West Side, working in my first sales job, determined to take the publishing industry by storm and live the perfect, glamorous urban life I had imagined for myself. I understood that I didn’t hold this city in the same regard as most of my friends, but I figured this would eventually change. Eventually, I would surely discover what made this place and this life so exciting.

Instead, it continued to elude me.

So I ignored my own instincts and took cues from my friends, who seemed to easily find excitement in New York. I went to the newest, best restaurants with my foodie friends and pretended to be thrilled by culinary concoctions I did not understand and could not pronounce. I went shopping with my fashionista friends, buying clothing I couldn’t afford and collecting designer accessories like some people collect stamps. I happy-houred and pub-crawled and wine-tasted with my nightlife-loving friends, feigning interest in the late nights and the crazy stories they produced, pretending I belonged.

I ended up completely broke, and totally broken down. Following others’ excitement left me with $20,000 of debt and an empty place in my soul that no amount of exotic sushi or expensive Chanel or VIP parties could fill.

I chased happiness, running after it like I would run after a cab in a rainstorm, wishing desperately that I could catch it. But of course I never could. It always escaped me.

How can you discover excitement when you’ve forgotten what excites you?

You start to listen. You start to pay attention. You start to trust yourself.

Things began to change when I finally acknowledged that I was not happy in New York, and that it was unlikely that I ever would be. When the right opportunity finally arose, I leapt on it without hesitation and moved across the country to Los Angeles. It felt right, immediately, in a way that New York never did. Slowly, gradually, I started discovering the things that truly excited me. Yoga, reading on the beach, outdoor concerts, sunsets over the ocean, writing. This time, I didn’t follow my friends into hikes I didn’t enjoy, or force myself to eat avocado on everything like so many Angelenos. This time, I tried new things, listened to my gut about what made me happy, and tossed the rest.

And I get it now. I found my excitement. I found my happiness.

It doesn’t mean that everything in my life is perfect now, or that I don’t have bad days still. It’s not, and I absolutely do. It’s still real life, though some of the incredible ocean view pictures might suggest otherwise, with all of its crazy ups and downs. But there is a level of contentedness that never existed for me in New York. Every single day that I wake up in Santa Monica, regardless of my mood, or the often-thick summer marine layer, or anything else going on in my life, I am excited and happy to live here. I am where I am meant to be.

Following my excitement simply meant listening to, and following, my heart. Following my heart meant finding real happiness.

Sunset: Hermosa Beach

Sunset: Hermosa Beach ; This IS real life.

 

xx,

Katie

 

Confession: I Thought It Mattered

I thought it mattered.

 

I thought it mattered if I was thin.
If I was beautiful.
If I was tall.
If I was unblemished.
If I was manicured.
If I was highlighted.
If I was perfect.

One day I learned that it didn’t matter. And I was happy.

But, I forgot, as we sometimes do.

 

Once more, I thought it mattered.

I thought it mattered if I was right.
If I was the fastest.
If I was the strongest.
If I was the smartest.
If I was the first.
If I was the best.
If I was perfect.

Another day arrived, and I remembered that it didn’t matter. And I was happy again.

But, still, I forgot.

 

Yet again, I thought it mattered.

I thought it mattered if people thought I was thin.
If they thought I was beautiful.
If they thought I was smart.
If they thought I was strong.
If they thought I was worthwhile.
If they thought I was lovable.

If they thought I was perfect.

This time, this time I didn’t believe it though. This time I knew, the way I knew the sun rises in the East, and June follows May, and one plus one equals two. I knew that it didn’t matter.

The only thing that mattered was that I lived in truth. My truth. Spoken, felt, shared, lived. Truth.

I will continue to forget, but I will also always remember. And in those moments of recollection, those moments of clarity, those moments of truth…there will be happiness.

 

 

xx,
Katie

Confession: I Wish I Knew Then What I Know Now

“Write a letter to your 16-year-old self.”

That was the directive given in a Monday morning class during a recent Manifestation Yoga Retreat with Jennifer Pastiloff in Italy. Her retreats are a special blend of yoga, journaling, soul-searching and connecting. This particular exercise came early in the week and left me nostalgic as I remembered who I was at 16, and what I wish I had known then.

I immediately began writing, eager to share what I have learned with this younger version of myself.

Dear 16-year-old Katie,

1.  Don’t cut bangs. Or try to add your own highlights with Sun-In. Or dye it an unnatural shade of reddish-orange in the upstairs bathroom. Actually, just leave it alone and stop trying to change it so you look like someone else. Look like you.

2.  Laugh more. Stop taking everything (mostly yourself) so seriously. You will never have less responsibility in your life; play, be silly, and laugh until your cheeks ache and your stomach hurts. 

3.  Try new things. Sushi, field hockey, guitar, French. Making decisions about what you won’t like before trying them may keep you from finding what you really love.

4.  DO WHAT YOU LOVE. It doesn’t need to be your major, or your eventual career, or even something that anyone else knows you can do. But find something you are passionate about and embrace it. 

5.  Take more risks. Don’t just do the things you think you will be good at. Do the things you think you won’t be good at. And then amaze yourself when you are.

6.  Cherish the people who love you. All of them. They will carry you through your life.

7.  Take that Honors American Studies class. It may be a little more work, it may be a lot harder than regular history, but it will force you to think, encourage you to open your mind, and teach you how to study, which will be invaluable for your future. Allow yourself to rise to the challenge.

8.  Start wearing sunscreen now, all of the time. Appreciate your skin. It will never again be as young as it is at this moment. Oh, and no more “laying out”.  Be outside for the joy of being there, not for the tanlines.

9.  Let your little sister teach you things, like patience, and generosity, and how to tweeze your eyebrows. Let her do that before you take your next yearbook photo. And then thank her.

10. You are allowed to change your mind. About what sport you play, about where you think you want to go to college, about what you want to eat for lunch tomorrow. You can change your mind about it all.

11. Try your best. Work hard. Push yourself. And then be okay with the results. You can never do more than your best.

12. Respect your parents. Turns out, they actually do know more than you do. The easier you go on them now, the less you will cringe when you remember all of the exaggerated eye rolls and dramatic sighs. Stop being embarrassed by their behavior and focus on your own.

13. BE KIND. Twenty years from now no one will remember (or care!) if you got straight A’s, or were the best soccer player, or won “best dressed”. They will remember how you made them feel. Let them remember that you made them feel good.

14. Stay open. Even when your heart is broken, even when you feel too exposed, even when it just hurts so much….don’t let the walls go up. It’s really difficult to break them down.

15. Ignore everything you’ve just read, because we both know that you need to learn these lessons for yourself, through your own experiences, before you will actually believe them. But seriously, trust me about the bangs.

Love,

35-year-old Katie

 

As I write this list, I realize that what I’m really doing is reminding my 35-year-old-self to do every one of these things. Because some lessons, like hard work, and kindness, and not taking yourself too seriously, are timeless. Because, so often, I still forget. Because it’s never too late to start. And because I still don’t look good with bangs. 

What would you tell your 16-year-old self? Please post below…and then ask if your 16-year old self (or you, sitting there, right now) would listen.

note

Confession: A Yoga Retreat Changed My Life

I am so honored to be featured on The Travel Yogi’s blog today, describing my amazing and life changing experience on my first yoga retreat.

“I made the decision to go to Bali on a whim. An LA-based yoga teacher, Jen Pastiloff, whose class I had taken once or twice, mentioned she would be leading a weeklong trip there in November. I knew virtually nothing about Bali, except for the magical feeling evoked whenever I heard the word. She had probably announced it in those previous two classes as well, but this time I heard it. I took a flyer, exchanged a few “what can I expect” emails with The Travel Yogi, and was booked on my first yoga retreat one week later.

How do you prepare for a life-changing experience? You can’t, I guess. You can simply take the leap, open your heart, and allow it all in…”

Please click here to read the rest, and consider one of their upcoming retreats for yourself!

xx,

Katie

Sunrise at Soulshine

Sunrise at Soulshine

Be Present

Driving south on I-75 outside of Atlanta on Sunday, the skies opened up and unleashed a downpour unlike anything I’ve seen since living in New York and LA for the last decade. As I struggled to see through the rain that exploded against the windshield, I remembered being stuck in summer storms in Miami, where you couldn’t see the car in front of you, or even the road sometimes. I thought about all of the precautions I would take then–slowing down, pumping the brakes, leaving extra space between my car and the car in front of me. If I could pull from all of my driving experience and knowledge, I could do this.

I felt safer for a wonderful instant…until I started seeing cars piled up, accordion-style on the shoulder next to me. Seeing the trucks that had floated past the shoulder and were turned backwards or upside down on the grassy median. Seeing police cars and ambulances and fire trucks flying past me. How many of those drivers also did everything they were supposed to do to ensure their safety, and still ended up being slammed from behind, or hydroplaning right off the expressway? At some point while you are white-knuckling it through the rain, you realize that any real sense of control is false and imagined. At some point it seems you have to accept that you are doing everything you are able to do and pray for the best result.

I spent the weekend in Georgia with my friend Rachel , a mother of two special needs children, rambunctious boys who are six and four. I could only liken her to some kind of superhero as I watched her being thrown challenge after challenge everyday, usually with no recovery time in between. As I was driving, struggling to navigate and stay, quite literally, above water in this massive storm, it struck me that so many of her days must be spent in this same manner–white-knuckling it through each moment, using all of her knowledge and skills and love to prevent slips and slides and collisions, but still often just getting rear-ended by life. Control over these situations? Not likely. I wonder how she can continue to have faith, that today everything will work out, that tonight everyone will be happy, that tomorrow it will be easier.

I’ve been feeling stuck for a few weeks since coming down from the high of vacation. Stuck in my own stuff, the everyday annoyances and setbacks and life stuff. Unable (or unwilling) to sit down and explore it, I’ve just been going through the motions. I watch it happening almost as though it’s happening to someone else entirely. I see the tightly clenched jaw and the furrowed brow. I hear the clipped tone, the voice that gets shorter throughout the day. I feel it in the seizing stomach and pounding of the blood through veins.

I’m getting worse at yoga, too tense and preoccupied to relax into the asanas. I’m getting worse at my job, too impatient and overwhelmed to be at my best. I’m getting worse at writing, too anxious and stressed to focus completely. I’m getting worse at relationships, too tired and distracted to give the people I love the attention they deserve.

I’m getting worse at life.

I hear the words that come out of my mouth, and wonder who this person is speaking. I hear the same things repeated over and over and over.

“Once I get through this, I’ll be fine.”
“After this, things will be so much better.”
“As soon as this passes, I’ll be happy.”

Until it finally hits me, hits me like the hail pounding the roof of the car in that Atlanta storm: this is my life. And I’m spending all of my time wishing it away.

How did that happen? This is surely not how it was meant to be, this “getting by” instead of really living. I know I’ve done it before, really lived. So how could I have so easily forgotten? Forgotten like it was just one of those times where I walked into a room to get something only to have no clue what it was once I got there. I forgot how live life, like it was a sweater or a pair of earrings I didn’t remember to retrieve from my bedroom.

One of the best lessons you can learn from a parent of special needs children is how to be present. It has been a theme in many of my yoga classes over the past year, but seeing it in action, in real life, through someone else, really illustrated what it means. Being present means you are in fully engaged in each minute of each day-not just the good ones. Being present means you are dealing with the mess and the dirt and the crap that often accompany those days. Being present means you savor every sweet moment, holding onto it as though you know it’s fleeting but you will still relish every second until it’s gone. Being present means not waiting to get through it, through life, before allowing yourself to be happy.

Being present means, if I may borrow the lyrics from one of my favorite Rent songs, “There’s only us. There’s only this. Forget regret. Or life is yours to miss.”

Be present. Show up. Listen to your heart and your body. Breathe. Pay attention. Do whatever makes you happy. Relinquish control. Laugh. Love. Live.

“No other road. No other way. No day but today.”

PS-for a glimpse of what Rachel’s extraordinary life is like, check out her appearance on The Doctors in the below clip, and follow I am a Fan of Somebody With Prader Willi Syndrome on Facebook! https://www.facebook.com/pages/I-am-a-Fan-of-Somebody-with-Prader-Willi-Syndrome/410689235692

Blaise on The Doctors

Lost & Found in Vietnam

Somewhere between Nha Trang and Phu Quoc, more than halfway into my trip to Vietnam, I lost my toothbrush. It was always packed snugly in my toiletries bag so I have no idea where it could have gone. It was no big deal, easily replaced by my hotel in Phu Quoc. But it amazed me how one second it was there, and the next it was gone, seemingly disappearing into thin air.

This could very well have been the theme of the trip: things that were lost and things that were found. Some of the lost items were done so deliberately. Most of the found were not. I tallied up everything I could remember leaving along the way, along with what was gained, in my solo journey to Vietnam.

LOST:

Various articles of clothing/accessories: left behind for housekeeping, or the next guest, or just the garbage, including but not limited to:

  • A striped bikini that I used to love but that was discolored from too many sunscreen applications
  • My favorite grey Miami Hurricanes long sleeve t-shirt with so many holes I stopped counting them
  • Sheer-bottomed cropped Lululemon pants, for the delight of whomever next stands behind them in yoga
  • Silver Havaianas with holes where their now-missing skull decals used to be
  • One gold earring, noticed around 5:30am in a tiny airplane bathroom, my remaining single earring looking like an ill-advised fashion statement
  • The “toos”: pajama pants that were too short, yoga pants that were too baggy, socks that were too dirty, a Panama Hat that was too misshapen
  • A white t-shirt,no longer white, that I just could not wash in the hotel sink one more time

Books: offered up with love to fellow travelers, not unlike the offerings my friends in Bali give to their Gods three times daily. I offered up Jeanette Winterson, Kate Atkinson and Gillian Flynn to the various lending libraries at my hotels, lightening my load and perhaps enlightening someone else’s with their lovely prose. Offering, at the very least, a literary alternative to the only other book I saw in English—50 Shades of Grey.

Vanity: with the lack of conditioner, 100 degree heat and 1000% humidity, and my three travel outfits, worrying about how I looked was wasted energy. Brushing my hair before swimming seemed pointless, makeup would have immediately melted off. Even my shiny manicure and pedicure that had seemed so important to squeeze in the day before I left seemed frivolous and unnecessarily vain amidst my wrinkled cotton Target dresses and sweaty ponytails.

My American accent: For the first four days of the trip, I was the only American in sight. It was something I have never experienced (or noticed) in my other travels. All around me I could hear Vietnamese and German being spoken loudly; occasionally I would catch some Australian- or South African-accented English. But no Americans. There was a Brit in a University of Kentucky shirt who almost fooled me until I saw him holding his telltale red passport. I found myself speaking slowly and softly, unintentionally mimicking the accented English I overheard. Phrases like “quite lovely” and “mucking around” passed effortlessly through my lips. When I arrived back in San Francisco, American English almost sounded foreign to me.

My reluctance to ask for help: released when I landed in the middle of night at a closed Ho Chi Minh City airport and realized I had nowhere to go and no idea how to stay safe for my five hour outdoor layover. Suddenly, “I’ll just do it myself” wasn’t an option. Suddenly, I couldn’t figure it out on my own. Suddenly, I needed to ask for help. And gradually, through countless conversations that consisted of me asking “where is this?” and “what do I do?”, it started to feel okay.

My Yoga Practice: I struggled to get through two (ok one and a half) classes this week, completely unmotivated and uninspired to do asanas that I typically rejoice in fives times a week. I wanted to want to practice…and still I didn’t. I lost my practice. It left me feeling a little off balance, a bit less grounded, surely less disciplined, and possibly a little more…well, imperfectly human.

My mind: clearly absent when I returned to the US to discover that my final flight, the one that would actually take me home, was not scheduled to depart until the following weekend. My first thought– “How could I have done that? It is so unlike me to make this kind of mistake?!?” My second thought, immediately following—“but I am just too tired to beat myself up about this right now. Find a new flight (ask for help!), get to the new gate, and let it go.” So in hindsight, this might have been one thing that was long overdue to be lost, replaced by a more forgiving and kinder mind.

My preconceived notions about traveling solo: Loneliness. Fear. Doubt. Regret. They weren’t there. If experienced at all, they were fleeting. Lost emotions that went the way of my toothbrush-without any thought, or fanfare, and not much missed.

FOUND:

Bug bites and a sunburn: Inexplicable with the amount of Deet and SPF 50 slathered on and time spent beneath an umbrella but they exist nonetheless.

Books: Oh, I had forgotten the true, unparalleled pleasure that comes from turning the pages of a treasured novel, being drawn in more with each passing chapter. Hours passed like minutes as engrossed as I was in these stories, with the soundtrack of waves the only other noise permeating my thoughts. Heaven, for me, is a beach and a book.

My sense of humor: for what else can you do but nervously giggle, and then actually laugh, on a four hour road trip with a cab driver who speaks absolutely no English and seems to have no idea where you are headed? Who offers to share his water with you, wanting to pass it to the backseat after he takes a swig? Who stops for bathroom breaks along the way…directly outside your window? Who nods yes to everything you ask, including questions abut the length of the drive, the weather, and the state of American healthcare (he nods twice when you mention Obama)? Who helps you develop your own language of gestures that finally gets you both to the right place? Laugh.

The $25 Vietnamese massage: I thought I had felt it all when it comes to massages. I learned that it’s a good idea to wear clothes to a Shiatsu massage, that a deep tissue Swedish massage can leave me bruised, and that a Balinese massage includes a full (ahem) chest massage. I will still unprepared for the Vietnamese massage. Between the punching and the slapping, the chopping and the cupping, and the tiny woman sitting on my back, I had no idea what was going on. But I was extremely relaxed afterwards, so something clearly worked.

New international friends: Tom and Barbara from Germany, currently living in Shanghai, and Susan and Mark from Australia, currently living in Kabul. I now know about the European ex-pat community in China, and the very real dangers of being a Westerner living in Afghanistan. I now know about the beauty of Laos and appeal of the Sunshine Coast, courtesy of my well-traveled friends. I now know that talking to strangers can add so much to your travel experience.

A quieted mind: Without yoga. Without meditation. Without even trying. Just…quieter.

Greater appreciation for the people in my life: the perspective that only comes from being away from them, my wonderful family and friends.

Greater appreciation for myself, and for what I am capable of: I did this. I traveled to Vietnam, by myself, with scarily little knowledge of the country or of what I would face there. I survived a closed airport and the scary bugs and the language barrier. I came, I saw, I conquered. And I loved it.

If this was a scorecard, the win is most definitely in the FOUND column.

No Bad Days. Sunset, Phu Quoc, Vietnam

No Bad Days.
Sunset, Phu Quoc, Vietnam

xx,

Katie