A Letter of Closure: Part Two

(One Year Later)

It’s the same here, in that way that can make a place feel oddly frozen in time, despite a year having passed. The people I am with are different, but they’re somehow the same, with the same hearts.The roosters still crow us awake before dawn every morning, and the cacophony of the donkeys braying and the birds singing is as simultaneously melodious and discordant as I remember it. The dogs, the big sweet one and one who is aloof except during mealtime, where he might coax a small morsel of food from someone, still smell—of farm, of dirt, of manure and of some other intangible dog odor. The sweetness from my first donut peach this summer immediately sends me into a fit of bliss and nostalgia. The geraniums in their window boxes continue to bloom their same vibrant shades of red, and the sun still sinks behind a nearby mountain ridge every evening, beyond a lone cypress tree, enveloped in a hazy, orange veil.

The passage of time is marked only by the horses, grown from awkward foals to sleeker, more adult versions of themselves, and the children, who have done the same.  At Ebbio for the second time, in what has become my Tuscan home, I’m reminded of the magic I found here last summer, its energy humming all around me as loudly as the buzzing insects. I had worried it might not be the same.

But you can return to wonder, I learn, and I have.

(One Month Later)

It took half a year of planning, but it was over within seconds. Resigning from a career was surprisingly anti-climactic.

One minute you have a job, a career, an identity, and the very next minute you do not.  Poof! The person you have been announcing yourself as for the last fifteen years is gone. You’re no longer the character you were so proud of playing, parading around in it like a coat you never removed. You don’t get to use the slightly smug smile that you couldn’t help using when people seemed impressed with you. You leave yourself behind in an instant.

For six years, you answered the phone, “Katie from Allure.” As if you didn’t have a last name. As if you didn’t have anything else. As if nothing else mattered.

Not as much anyway.

This was your life. You thought it was what you wanted, until one day it wasn’t.

You stay. Play the part, dance the dance. Keep up appearances to hide the twisted insides. Focus on all of the things you’ve acquired, and steadfastly ignore the whispers that say, “there must be something more than this car, this bag, this life.” Build up that house of cards and climb so high you can’t see the bottom any longer. So high you can’t remember how you even got up there, or why you thought you might like the view; so high you don’t know how you are ever going to get down, or what the fall might feel like.

Because it will fall down. That’s what card houses do. They’re not built for forevers. And as soon as you start this interrogation of your heart from its apex, it quivers and buckles and threatens to collapse completely, and you’re left with the choice to jump off the top, from where you can no longer see the ground, or come crashing down with it, a jumble of cards and regrets.

So you jump.

And you immediately wonder, will I freeze now, without that well-worn coat? You wonder, should I have stayed? You wonder, am I crazy to have left? You wonder, what comes next?

You wonder, who will I be now?

(One Day Later)

The words echo around in my head, bouncing from one side to the other. I’m hearing them in the voice of the one who first uttered them to me; a prayer:

“You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves….”

 

The opening to Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese, and I can hear it now. I hear it here in yoga, at Ebbio, where the voice that first told me I could have more asks me to write another letter of closure, one year later. I watch this girl, this Katie from Allure, as if from a distance, and I think about what she needs to hear.  So I write.

 

Dear Katie From Allure,
Everything is going to be ok.
 
You do not have to always have all of the answers.
You do not need to make money to make a difference.
You do not need to have valuable stuff to feel valued.
You do not need call yourself by a fancy title to feel proud.
You do not need to worry so much about what you won’t be anymore.
You do not need to know what you are meant to do before you start doing something.
You do not need to know where you will end up in order to take the first step.
You only have to take the first step.
 
Take the step.
Then take another.
And remember this: you are the only person who can pursue your happiness. You are the only person who can listen to your own heart. You are the only person who can nurture your soul.
You are the only person who can save your life.
 Do it. Save yourself.
 
Everything is going to be ok.
 
Love,
Katie

 

(One Minute Later)

A bug committed suicide in my bed.

I woke to find him dead, my body covered in bites, his engorged with my blood. I wonder if he knew where he was headed but was simply unable to stop. I wonder if, at some point, he had an inkling of his fate, but thought he could somehow outrun it. I wonder if he would make the same choice again. I wonder if I actually killed him, smothering him as I rolled over and tucked my right arm under my pillow so that only my hand stuck out, floating in the air.

I’m here with my dead bug, thinking about the last minute, the last hour, the last month, the last year, all from a Tuscan farmhouse that feels suspended between a dream and reality, with people who are both strangers and family. I think about how happy I am to be doing it. I am saving my own life. I think about how easy it would have been to not do so, to have stayed, and I’m so relieved that the pain of the jump begins to subside. This is my life now.

I’m not that dead bug, I’m not buried under a collapsed house of cards, I’m not Katie from Allure.

I’m just me, removing coats, taking steps, saving myself.

 

Under The Tuscan Sun

Under The Tuscan Sun

 

photo 2 (33)

Girasole=happiness

Angels, Turtles and Magic: A Week in the Galápagos

My roommate sleeps with a smile on her face.

We are here, in the Galápagos Islands, for a weeklong retreat. The word “retreat” has never felt more fitting than it does here, where the main attractions are nature and animals and are so far removed from the constant traffic and smog and noise of Los Angeles. This is no City of Angels, but it seems to hold so many of them in the form of sea lions and blue-footed boobies and massive pre-historic looking turtles called tortugas.

My roommate, too. She is an angel. She sleeps in stillness while smiling, on her side, with her hands pressed together underneath her head as if in a silent prayer. She wakes languidly, smile still on her face, the physical embodiment of the lines from one of my favorite Mary Oliver poems:

“Good morning, good morning, good morning. Watch, now, how I wake in happiness, in kindness.”

I wake with the remnants of own night. Jaw sore from permanent clenching, teeth aching from grinding through a plastic mouth guard, muscles oddly tired from some unknown fight while I slept. I asked the dentist how I could stop grinding my teeth so badly, how I could sleep more peacefully. “Have less stress,” she tells me, as if stress were an object I could collect or discard at will, like souvenir t-shirts or expensive shoes. Just have less of them, and I will sleep better and my teeth won’t bite through plastic and my jaw will no longer lock. What if it were that easy? What if I could smile in my sleep too?

Or what if I was a tortuga?

We went to visit them, where they gather in ponds and roam across open land covered in landscaping scraps that looked like perfect little grass and twig houses. It was a surreal place, like we had stumbled upon the Galápagos-themed section of Epcot rather than real life. An amusement park attraction that couldn’t possibly exist in nature. Except that it somehow does.

I crouched down before one of the turtles who was submerged halfway in the mud, his shell making suction-y noises when he tried to lift himself to a new vantage point, detaching himself from the sludge momentarily before sinking back down again. I stared at him silently for what seemed an eternity, the wariness in his eyes never lessening. He opened his mouth as if to talk to me, but remained mute. Instead he kept his eyes trained on me as he slowly retracted his head back into his shell, connection to me lost for good.

I know this turtle. I am this turtle.

I know how to pull my head back into my shell. I know how to disengage. I know how to retreat.

But this retreat is actually not about retreating. It’s not about escaping at all here. It’s about finding yourself in a place, in nature, in animals.

Besides, as Chris Cleave put it his novel Little Bee, “life is not inclined to let us escape.” There is no retreating from the iguana who crosses my path, causing me to pause and admire his vivid yellow coloring. Or from the sea lion cub who stops to sniff my clothing before he flops down on the sand to dry himself, and to rest from the exertion of climbing up the rocks to dry land. Or yet another enormous tortuga, who walks boldly and deliberately towards me, eyes never leaving mine, an unspoken challenge to let him really see me.

The beauty here is both undeniable and inescapable.

At Semilla Verde, the picturesque retreat center where we are staying, the sunrise shines through the trees at 5am, illuminating them the way the brighten button on my camera means to enhance my pictures, but that I can now see fails miserably. Nothing could re-create this filter, this real light that dances across the treetops and peeks through the green.

The yoga studio, with its perfectly smooth wood floors, and dramatic wall of windows, looks out onto the tortoise pond. One night as we are practicing, in the dusk with just a few candles lit, a tortuga crosses the yard, moving slowly towards the setting sun in the distance. We pause in our practice to admire this completely natural, and completely surreal moment.

At that instant, we all believe in magic.

I am trying, desperately, to remember it all, now that it’s over. I’m writing it down and cataloguing pictures and studying our itinerary, because how tragic would it be to experience magic and not remember it?

I hope I never forget the color of the water here, and the multitude of shades of aqua and cerulean and cobalt that I’ve never before seen together. I hope I never forget the vibrant red grass that covers the desert land during the dry season, or the exact shade of the blue-footed boobies’ startlingly blue feet. I hope I never forget the intensity of the gaze of the tortugas, who seemed to see right into my soul.

I hope I never forget the smell of sea lion poop and iguana poop sealed together in the salty air, a smell so vile and distinct that it seems forever burned in my nostrils. I hope I never forget the smell of burning paper in the huge stone fireplace, where we tossed in pages of our journals, newspapers and candy wrappers; everything we hoped to leave behind in the Galápagos: our fears, our flaws and our trash. I hope I never forget the smell of the afternoon rain that fell on Semilla Verde almost daily—cool and earthy and cleansing.

I hope I never forget the sound of the frigate birds flying overhead during mating season, or the sea lion “bull” calling out from the water to his harem of females. I hope I never forget the sound of a little boy giggling as he ran through the house, or the raspy voice of our tour guide Cheche, as he shared his love of Galápagos with us. I hope I never forget our laughter as we recounted tales to each other with catch phrases like “clamp-down”, “wine-in-a-box” and “chef-on-a-boat”.

I hope I never forget the tartness of tamarind sorbet, or the chalkiness of Ecuadorian dark chocolate. I hope I never forget the amazing combination of rice and cheese and corn, fried together to make the perfect breakfast delicacy.

I hope I never forget the softness of the white sand on the beaches beneath our feet, the fine crystals feeling like something else entirely, almost like liquid even. I hope I never forget the rocky terrain we traversed, and the way it felt solid yet sometimes shifted under our slow steps.

I hope to never forget standing in the rain, barefoot in the wet grass, eyes and hearts lifted to the sky in a circle gratitude, feeling so perfectly in the right place at the right time.

I hope I never forget any of it.

Because if I can allow myself to dream of this beauty, to dream of this magic, I, too, may wake up with my hands pressed together under my head, saying a prayer of gratitude. I, too, may stop retreating into my shell. I, too, may awaken as a smiling angel. I may remember it all.

Gracias por los recuerdos Galápagos. Gracias por todo.

Tortuga

Tortuga

Sea Lion

Sea Lion Baby

Iguana

Iguana

Sea Turtle!

Sea Turtle!

View on South Plazas Island

View on South Plazas Island (sea lion and bird perched high above the water)

Sunset. Yoga. Tortuga. Bliss.

Sunset. Yoga. Tortuga. Bliss.

Katie

525,600 Minutes

One year

525,600 minutes

This weekend marks the first anniversary of this blog. It was one year ago today that I made one of my biggest life changes to date, and celebrated my official “coming out” as a writer. The memory of hitting the ‘publish’ button that very first time comes back to me in a rush. It’s a memory of sweat and panic, of slamming my laptop closed immediately afterwards, as if by shutting down the computer I could shut down the reality of what just happened, and go back to before. But there was no before now; there was just after.

One week

10,080 minutes

One week ago, I attended the first ever Manifestation Yoga and Writing Retreat in Stowe, Vermont, created and led by the incomparable Jennifer Pastiloff, along with bestselling author, Emily Rapp. For the first time, fittingly it seemed on this almost-one-year writing anniversary, I would attend actual writing workshops, with an actual writer and teacher. Like all new things that I couldn’t prepare for in advance, I was riddled with anxiety in the weeks (okay, months) leading up to the trip. What if everyone else there had been writing for years? What if they were all published, and critically acclaimed, and I was a complete amateur, not a real writer at all, in their presence?

What if I discovered that I wasn’t so special, after all?

Three days

4,320 minutes 

That revelation never had a shot at revealing itself on this magical three-day weekend with Jen and Emily. 

Instead, we banished our insecurities and focused our energy elsewhere: on wine and cheese introductions, and a video about Stowe that felt like one of those videos from a resort trying to sell you a timeshare (Snow! Horses! Nature! Come Visit Soon!!). We played with Chrissy, the yellow lab who loved to, with her poor displaced hips, inelegantly plop down on a yoga mat in the middle of the group, just wanting to be a part of it all, and perhaps catch a few falling pieces of food amidst the chaos. We moved our bodies together in our first Manifestation class, slowly at first, in the early morning chill, then more assuredly as the room and our muscles heated. We ignored our self-consciousness with a dance party, and pushed past our fears to do downward-facing dog atop a horse. We sang “Doe, a Deer, a Female Deer” in the Von Trapp family forest, and “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” while holding a Warrior Two pose for what felt like forever.

We had less than 5,000 minutes together, yet we connected, in that way that you do when you find yourself in another person. We found each other, and we found ourselves. We cried, and laughed, and sang, and shared, and made every one of those minutes mean something.

One year

525,600 minutes

It has taken me a year to get here. To understand what the writing is. It’s sharing our stories. It’s finding minutes, or even just moments, where we feel less alone.

One week

10,080 minutes

Time is so very fluid. Last week feels like both seconds and a lifetime ago. I almost can’t tell the difference anymore. Most of us have waited to share our stories, wanting instead to steep in the feeling, in the specialness, for just a little bit longer before sharing them with the world, with each other even.

I want to whisper to everyone, write it down. Write it all down now, because you will forget. The details are already starting to elude me, writing this just 10,000 minutes later. I remember the scent of the horse shit mixed with wet leaves and the caked mud that we tracked into the house. But is the smell of burning wood real, or just in my memory, constructed after conjuring up any New England fall day I could remember? I can still see the ominous clouds hovering over the hills in the distance, barely concealing a sun desperate to break through for a precious few, perfect minutes. But were the colors of the sunrise really so vivid? Were the oranges melting into reds melting into trees real, or just what I can see in the photograph, filtered and framed and frozen until they maybe became something else entirely?  

Does it matter what was real, and what was imagined? Or does it just matter that we were there, and that we are changed?

I remember this. A poem that Jen read on this retreat, like she had on so many others before that reverberated then, but this time becomes something completely new to me. This is the first time my ears have really heard it.

Autobiography in Five Short Chapters

By Portia Nelson

I

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I fall in.
I am lost … I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes me forever to find a way out.

II

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place
But, it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

III

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in … it’s a habit.
My eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

IV

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

V

I walk down another street.

Three days

4,320 minutes

I am here, finally. On this, my fourth retreat, spending just 5,000 brief minutes amongst the rolling hills and multi-colored leaves and the smell of horse shit, my eyes finally open. I have reached the fourth chapter. I have stopped falling into the hole.

I will forget, of course. Isn’t that what we do, learn lessons over and over again? The ease of the writing in those exercises that Emily led us through won’t last forever, I know. The support we felt in this sacred space will wane, in our minds at least. Sometimes I will think again that I cannot do this, cannot possibly be a writer. But this time, I won’t go back to before. I will stay in the after. I will make new afters. 

One year ago

525,600 minutes ago

My first blog entry was titled “Confession: I Have No Idea What I’m Doing”. For everything I’ve learned over the past year, the last 525,600 minutes, I still have no idea what I am doing. But I am walking down the new street, anxious as always that I don’t know where it will go or what’s coming next, but certain that it is better than falling into the same hole on the same old street.

One weekend

One week

One Year

525,600 minutes

This is how I measure a year.

In endless gratitude,

Katie

Sunrise at Stowe Mountain Ranch Unfiltered and Perfect

Sunrise at Stowe Mountain Ranch
Unfiltered and Perfect

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 

Finding My Religion

Every Sunday morning, when I’m at home in Los Angeles, I get up by 8:00 and travel 13 miles to Manhattan Beach to participate in my favorite weekly yoga class with Jennifer Pastiloff. There are closer classes, sure, and ones that don’t leave me cursing the alarm clock, but I always return to this one. It’s the class we lovingly refer to as “yoga church”. I don’t know who coined the term, and I never gave too much thought to it previously, beyond knowing that I usually enter class a little tired, sometimes a little cranky as well, and always emerge renewed, grateful and at peace.

While traveling to Dallas for business, my dear friend and hostess for the weekend, Cherry, invited me to join her at her “yoga church” here in Dallas; her words, not mine. I didn’t know anyone else felt this way about a yoga class, but I readily agreed, trusting my Bali sister’s opinion that this experience would be special. When two other yogi friends of mine also raved about the teacher, Janie Montague, nothing could have kept me away.

I settled in at 9:00am on my borrowed mat, anticipation building, and looked down to see there was writing scribbled across the top: Open To Grace. What an inspiring message to start your Sunday service. What a beautiful mantra for life.

As we began to flow through the sun salutations and heart-opening asanas, my eyes kept returning, almost as if magnetized, to the writing on my mat. Open to Grace.

Janie nimbly guided us through poses as life lessons, reminding us to trust, to give thanks, to be kind, to love. But it was towards the end of the class that she really sunk the hook into me, with a moment so perfect and so serendipitous that it gutted me.

“Reach one hand to the ground, and one hand to grace, and realize that what is exactly in between is you, the combination of both.”

These are the moments, though small, that change your life.

I grew up going to church sporadically, mostly on holidays or as part of the requirements for a sacrament. I dutifully attended CCD classes on Tuesday or Wednesday evenings through eighth grade, because that’s just what you did. When I was in high school, I sang in the church choir, the closest I ever came to being a devout Catholic, attending church every Sunday to sing the Word of the Lord. If I’m being honest, it was always more about the music for me than the message. The music WAS the message. I came home humming the melodies rather than spreading the Word.

At no point do I remember having an epiphany about myself, or about humanity, or about life, while I was at mass. I enjoyed the ritual, I exalted in the songs, but when I stopped going to services regularly, I forgot to miss them.

Then I discovered yoga, and our so-called “yoga church”, which inspires me to spread the message all day long. Which has left an imprint on my heart that I could never forget to miss.

Nowhere am I more in tune with myself, with who I am and who I want to be. Nowhere am I more in tune with other people, hearing their collective breath, the inhaling and the exhaling, and feeling their heartbeats echoing in my own. Nowhere am I more in tune with the Universe, both hearing and understanding the lessons it is presenting me. Trust, gratitude, kindness.

My religion is yoga.

My religion is grace.

My religion is love.

Namaste.

PS-Please consider donating to a wonderful event that both Cherry and Janie are actively participating in…One Love Dallas will benefit Off The Mat, Into The World ‘s Legacy Project in India, an organization that works to rescue, rehabilitate and empower those affected by the sex trafficking industry. A great cause supported by great people! You can find more info and donate here.

Open To Grace

Open To Grace

xx,

Katie

A Letter of Closure

“Wow, she’s gained so much weight.”

“She really looks terrible.”

“I can’t believe how big she is.”

This is what I imagine people say about me when I walk out of a room.

When I get up from the table to go to the bathroom. When I go to get my car from the valet. When I walk to the bar to grab another round of drinks. Even when I am still sitting right there in front of them, the words run in a scroll through my mind, a news ticker only I can see that broadcasts what I am so certain everyone must be thinking.

I stopped into my New York office before leaving for a two week trip to Italy. I obsessed for weeks in advance about how I would face colleagues I hadn’t seen in six months, and what they would surely think of me once they saw me now.  I anticipated conversations where I could plead with them, “Remember, I didn’t always look this way?! Remember, I used to be thin?!? Please, remember???”

The lingering rational part of my mind reasons that most likely no one is talking about me. And if they are, it’s probably not about the pounds I have gained.  But still the thoughts cut through rhyme and reason and stick there, adhered to my brain and seared into my heart.

I arrived in Tuscany last week for my second yoga retreat, this time with my extra literal and figurative baggage. Set amongst rolling hills, with a view of the Monteriggioni castle, Ebbio is an 800-year old farmhouse complete with roosters who function as alarm clocks, wild horses who nuzzle your hand looking for food, and a tree-covered trellis that is suspended above the communal table where all food is served. It is, in a word, picturesque. It is, in a feeling, home.

It is also, as I settled in, the place where I would fully face the demons that have become my daily companions of late.

The fears from New York remained; multiplied perhaps. This group would see beyond even what those in my office saw.

I couldn’t hide a fuller stomach under a blousy dress, just as I couldn’t hide my shame with self-deprecating jokes. Here, it all shows. Amidst the yoga pants and the bikinis, the massages and the acupuncture, the tears and the laughter, everything here demands to be seen and felt. Here, you wear your heart on the outside.

It took me until the last day on my first retreat to say the words: I have an eating disorder. They came out on the first day at Ebbio. I surrendered. I can’t trust that what I see in myself is real. It is time to let others show me the truth.

When we wrote our 5 Most Beautiful Things about each other, none of the letters from my friends mentioned weight or pants size. When we were asked to describe ourselves as others see us, the words “fat” and “gross” were not among those used. It is time to remove those words from my vocabulary. It is time to end this book, finally, and begin another. It is time to say goodbye.

On our second class, on a Sunday evening in the middle of asanas and flowing and opening up and crying and sharing came the directive, “Write a letter of closure.”

And so it follows, the beginning of the end.  

Dear Eating Disorder,

This is a Dear John letter. The time has come for us to say goodbye. You have been a loyal companion since my teenage years. We were high school sweethearts I guess. Though at times I made attempts as finding love elsewhere, I could never forget you. I always returned. You worked your way into my heart and my soul back when they were still discovering what should actually be there, and you convinced me that I could not live without you. And naively, I believed you. You tricked me. You lied to me. You made me hate me. Sometimes I even hated you. But I was never ready to close the proverbial door on you.

It is time. It was time. It was never time. How did you ever even get here in the first place? It doesn’t really matter now.

You will be moving out soon. You can take the flat screen tv and the fancy chandelier and even the complicated wine opener. You can take it all. You don’t deserve any of it, of course, but I will give them to you in order to ensure your leaving.

I don’t wish you well. I don’t hope you will find a soulmate in someone else one day. I don’t pray for your future happiness. I’m sure you understand. Or maybe not. That’s fine too. It doesn’t matter anymore, as long as you are gone.

Please leave the keys when you go. I am still going to change the locks, because I don’t trust that you didn’t make copies, and I suspect you will show up and try to let yourself in again.  But it’s symbolic, so leave them behind on the counter with the garage door opener and my heart. 

It’s over. This is your eviction notice. Your contract will not be renewed. We are done. 

Do not call. Do not write.  Do not text me for a booty call at 1am on a lonely Saturday night. Don’t tweet me. Don’t tag me in your Instagram pictures, attempting to make me nostalgic. Just go, and stay gone.

It. Is. Over. É Finita in Italy.

PS—I know it’s customary to say, “It’s not you, it’s me.” But it IS you. It’s NOT ME. And that’s why this must end now.

xx,

Katie

Letting Go in a field of sunflowers in Tuscany.

Letting Go in a field of sunflowers in Tuscany. “May you always be this happy. May you always be this free.”

 

 

Confession: I Am A Control Freak

thatblackgirlsite.com

thatblackgirlsite.com

(as seen on MindBodyGreen)

I’ve been anticipating my upcoming summer trip to Italy forever it seems. I began buying sundresses six months in advance, started an official countdown at the three-month mark, and made my to-do lists blanketing the entire month leading up to my departure. Each day was accounted for. I had sunscreen and hats to buy for the hot Italian sun, walks and hikes to get me ready for strolling around the Tuscan countryside, and extra yoga classes to take before I put my body through twice-a-day classes there. Everything was going smoothly and according to plan.

And then, three weeks before I left, I broke my toe. A “hairline fracture,” the doctor explained to me with her optimistic smile, but broken nonetheless. Broken, just like it had been a flimsy string holding together my carefully laid out plans. Fractured, just enough to throw everything out of alignment. Cracked, just enough to cause everything leading up to the trip to change.

I do not do well with change.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve lived my life ruled by the appointments entered in my calendar. Schedules and structure make me feel safe and in control. Routines calm me, timelines comfort me, planning soothes me. Crossing an item off my to-do list triggers an almost sheepish feeling of satisfaction that I relish, and now, because of a silly injury, I would have an entire to-do list that was undone. It almost caused me to become undone. It feels ridiculous even to me that this little interruption in the regimen threatened to unhinge me. But so it was.

I went through various stages of grief as my carefully constructed plans slipped away in front of my eyes. I threw a bit of a tantrum, first with anger at myself (how could I do something so stupid?!), second with tears. Then a slightly longer pity party (I was the only attendee; everyone else sent their regrets). Bargaining followed (I will do anything to make this foot better!). Next came the questions, asked to myself out loud, and answered in a voice that sounded irritatingly like one of my friends.

Why me? (Well, why not you? Why should you be exempt from accidents?)

What if this ruins my trip? (It will only ruin your trip if you let it.)

What am I going to do now? (I guess you’re either going to sulk and be miserable about it, or you’re going to get over it.)

And with that, the final stage, acceptance.

When even your own voice, the one that sounds like your friend who wants you to stop complaining and gain a little perspective, tells you to get over it? You listen.

You start to let go.

It was like releasing helium-filled balloons into the air.

First to go was yoga and those hikes — impossible with a foot injury; I let go of that string and the balloon floated swiftly away from me. Next released was the carefully constructed schedule — with a bum toe, standing at happy hours or combing the aisles of Target for travel-sized toothpaste were not a priority; that balloon practically jumped out of my hand.

Hardest to part with was the control I felt I had when my calendar was full and my life was planned. Liberating that balloon took, ironically, the most strength; my fingertips were painstakingly pried open one by one, before I could finally let go, exhale and wave goodbye.

My balloons gone, I was left without a plan.

And for the first time, it started to feel okay. I adjusted. I took care of myself. I even looked forward to a day stretched out by lack of obligations. I let myself just… be.

When I returned to yoga to test out my foot, I was amazed. Bewildered even, at how this little injury had impacted me. My mind and my body were more in tune than I can ever remember them being. My movements were slower, more deliberate and more intentional. There were limitations, of course, things I simply could not do with a still healing toe. But for once, my mind heard the cues my body gave, and actually listened to them, resting when necessary and easing up at just the right moments. I felt at once stronger and lighter. For one hour, all I did was pay attention (which, coincidentally, was the theme of the class). It was a truly wonderful moment.

Breaking my toe was physically not much more than an annoyance and some minor pain. Breaking the cycle of trying to control and plan everything in my life was the unexpected and clearly much needed side effect of this little accident.

It’s amazing how even the smallest break can cause the biggest breakthrough.

Confession: I Will Always Love You

When I was little, I used to ask my mom what I could do to make her not love me anymore. 

 
I started testing people early it seems, and my mom was my first participant. She would tell me “I will love you forever. No matter what. I will always love you. I would challenge her frequently, the little four-year-old antagonist that I was, never fully comprehending this concept of forever love, often testing it, yet desperately wanting to believe it. So I would ask, and she would immediately and unwaveringly answer:

 
If I’m bad, will you still love me then? Of course.
If I yell at you, will you still love me then? Definitely.
If I run away, will you still love me then? Undoubtedly.
Even if I hurt you, will you still love me then? Yes, always. I will always love you.
 
This memory came rushing back at me this morning in my favorite yoga class, what we fondly call “yoga church” every Sunday morning. The theme was comfort, and our teacher asked us to think of something that has been said to us that brings us comfort. She offered a few suggestions but I chose the first thing that popped up in my head, the thing that is always somewhere in there but needs to be brought into consciousness so much more often.
 
I will always love you.
 
Ironic that what comforts me is also what I have the hardest time understanding.
 
As I moved through the warrior ones and the tree poses repeating my mantra, “I will always love you”, I pondered if it could really be true. Could we ever really make that commitment to someone, to love them unconditionally? Does it only work with your parents, or your children, or your spouse? And could love possibly transcend time and circumstance and everything else that life throws out to test us, and really be forever? How could I believe it from someone else when I wasn’t sure if I could extend the sentiment myself?
 
I thought about all of the people I have loved in my lifetime, the four-year-old contrarian now in a 35-year-old body, still questioning everything. When I’ve said I love you, when I’ve used the word forever, did I mean it? I think of the ones who broke my heart, and the ones whose hearts I may have broken. I think of the ones who grew apart, or replaced me with another. The ones who told me they were going, and the ones who simply left without a word. Is there truly love left there?
 
I am surprised to discover the answer is yes. 
 
Through any lingering anger, through pain that may never fully heal, through tears and hurt and confusion and acceptance, there is still love. Love for what once was, love for lessons learned, love for being a part of my past and for leading me to where and who I am now.
 
LOVE. 
 
And if I can believe my own love exists for others unconditionally, I should be able to believe it when someone uses the words forever and always with me. I should be able to use those words too.
 
We went around the yoga studio this morning before savasana, each person offering up what their words of comfort had been. Everyone had something, and they were mostly variations of the same “everything is going to be all right” message. It seems everyone has the same basic needs: to feel safe, to know things will work out, to feel loved.
 
Maybe all we need to feel safe is the promise from someone else that we will be. Maybe this is why we call it yoga church, because it challenges us to rely on faith–faith in our bodies, in our minds and in our hearts. And faith in each other. Maybe what we can offer back to each other most for comfort…is love. 
 
So to all of you, I echo the sentiments that my fellow yogis voiced this morning:
 
It’s going to be okay.
I will be here for you. 
Things will get better.
You are loved.
 
I will always love you.
 
xx,
Katie

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

Confession: I Am A Lazy Perfectionist

laziness2

I didn’t leave my house today.

 
meant to meet my friend at yoga.
meant to clean my closet.
meant to give up sugar.
meant to be productive.
 
And yet here I am again, sitting on the couch at 10:00 at night, my body imprinted onto the beige couch, eating cookie dough. Un-yoga’d, un-showered, un-moved, un-motivated. Chastising myself about my perpetual laziness, which seems to rear its ugly head all too frequently. Wanting everything in my life to be perfect, wanting to check off every item on my to-do list until there is nothing left to do, until I can say to anyone who will listen, “just look at everything I did!”
The only things on my calendar today were “yoga” and “spring clean the closets” and I didn’t do either of them. Instead, I stayed home. Instead, I shoved more shirts into my dresser drawers, forcing them closed even when they resisted, clothing all bunched up and not even folded. Instead, I hid things underneath the bathroom sink, and loaded dirty dishes into the dishwasher half-full of clean dishes to avoid putting them away. Instead, I tossed the laundry into the linen closet and slammed the door so I wouldn’t see it anymore. See, now it looks perfect even when it’s not.
 
It’s a pattern you see, and patterns don’t really like to break themselves.
 
During my sophomore year of high school, we performed the musical Peter Pan. I was cast as the mom, a cameo role given to me in part because I was talker than most of my classmates. Since the character only appears in the beginning and end of the show, I was given the opportunity to play a “Lost Boy” as well. I declined, citing my need to “stay in character”for the entire show. In reality, I just didn’t want to learn the choreography involved in the other scenes. I already had to sing, while tying Mr. Darling’s bowtie in under a minute in a ball gown, while comforting my “children” who were actually older than I was. I didn’t need to learn anything else. I took the easy way out and hung out backstage every night in my elaborate updo and makeup designed to make me look older and waited for the finale while those Lost Boys sang and danced for the crowd.
 
Taking the easy way comes naturally to me it seems.
 
(Scene fades; cut to twenty years later)
 
This week I considered quitting yoga.
 
It has been so difficult for me in class lately. Showing up is not the hardest part as I had previously thought; making it through an hour is. My hamstrings again refuse to stretch, my triceps quiver after just one plank pose, my core wants nothing to do with those crunches. It’s so ridiculously hard. Maybe yoga is always going to be this hard for my body; maybe my body has already quit even.
 
Or maybe it’s because my mind does not want to open. It wants to stay as shut as those dresser drawers, keeping all of the mess and chaos and secrets inside where no one can see them. It refuses to let those overstuffed, full of shit drawers stay closed. It tries desperately to pry them open, those drawers with their sweaters mixed with tank tops, and socks and bras all tangled up with tights. It begs, “look at me, all of your crap in this drawer and deal with me.”
 
Or just maybe it is the self-acceptance that you are expected to bring to the mat with you, that is supposed to sit down beside you while you move through your tree poses and crow poses and child’s poses. That is supposed to tell you just in case the teacher forgets, “Listen to your body. If you need a break, take one. No one is judging you. There is no perfect. Just honor your truth.” I think I forget to bring that voice with me, like I sometimes forget my water bottle. Or it’s talking to someone else. Or it’s speaking a different language. Or I just can’t hear it. Maybe that’s it.
 
I just want everything to be easy.
 
I want someone else to do the work. I want the drawers to clean themselves, I want the handstand without the practice, I want the jeans to miraculously be loose and I want to just be open without all of the pain of getting there.
 
If only life were actually easy.
 
But it never is, is it? So we do whatever we do to keep going.
 
I fill up my calendar. I make my to-do lists. I keep showing up for yoga, and I give up sugar (again). Knowing that one day, one time, I’ll work all the way through the list, where maybe the perfection is waiting for me and has been all along if I had only worked harder before to find it.
 
I’ll keep going and going like this, until one day I’ll finally let go of the notion that perfection only comes when every box has been ticked. That notion that perfect exists when there is an Xin front of handstand, and skinny, and organized. That notion that perfection exists at all.
 
I will then let go of it and all that will be left is a shadowy reminder of this long held belief. It will be washed away like the pollen after a rainstorm, flowing down into the gutters and only leaving behind a faint yellow tinge to the earth and a memory of a sneeze now almost forgotten. All that will be left is just life, wrapped up in all of its imperfect perfection, that can never be erased with the rain.