A General Update on the Last Two Years

Bless me readers, for I have sinned. It has been over two years since my last post, though I have continued to sit on my domain name (because something inside me knew that I would be back).

Over the last two years I have learned much more about how endlessly full of shit I am (and how that is no different from most human beings). So there’s that. I have also learned how to enjoy things more, which mostly involves trying not to think about about how my B.S. stacks up against the B.S. of others. Both of those learnings have come courtesy of getting older and still not getting what I want, as well as the kick-in the pants of having a chronic illness (that a lot of people don’t believe exists).

To bring us up to speed, here is a bullet list of items that could each be a future post, but might not be:

  • I still work at my corporate job, though I have been promoted a couple times and now feel like I’m pretty good at what I do there, which helps my attitude about the whole thing.
  • I still live on 10 acres of a hobby farm with my husband and dog, except now we have another dog AND my parents and their dog have moved in with us (the between-the-lines there is that we still don’t have any children). Lots of adjustment and turmoil related to that move.
  • I have not finished my Thai Yoga Bodywork training/certification. That whole process got hijacked by my corporate job. I am registered to finish the training in October, and will then need to do volunteering and some other things to finish the certification.
  • After 10 years of random efforts to figure out a weird variety of symptoms, I was finally diagnosed with a strange and fun cousin of chronic Lyme Disease. I actually tested positive for it on a lab test (which makes me lucky – the tests are not the most reliable when it comes to false negatives for borrelial infections, which leads a lot of people to a lot of feeling crazy). When you have had it for 10 years, there is no cure. There is only remission.  Having a diagnosis and struggling to do the treatment have sucked up a big part of the last year.

Those are the big headlines. There have also been some trips, lots of yoga, some hiking and camping, the usual assortment of concerts and social engagements, etc. Also, somewhat unbelievably, I have taken up running (I KNOW!). And I finally planted a garden again this year. That’s all for now! Thanks for letting me reintroduce myself.

 

 

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A New Path: Thai Yoga Bodywork

For the last eight days I was in training to learn levels 1 and 2 of Thai Yoga Bodywork (there are six levels to get certified). It was difficult, and gratifying, and purposeful, and I learned so much more than just the curriculum! I felt for the first time in a very long time that I was going down a path that was worth pursuing. Even though it was hard, it felt right to me. I’m excited to share my experience, but first there are a couple things I would like to clear up! The main thing that friends and family have asked when they heard about this pursuit is:

What is Thai Yoga Bodywork?

Often referred to as Thai Massage or “Lazy Man’s Yoga,” it is officially called nuad boaran in the Thai language. It’s kind of difficult to explain until you experience it, but here is a pretty good explanation:

So what is Thai Massage? Well, for one thing, it’s not massage as we know it in the West. In fact, it is unfortunate that the term “Thai massage” has become so popular because that second word, massage, is misleading and inaccurate. Massage tables or oil aren’t used, there is no rubbing on the skin or kneading of the muscles, and the receiver remains clothed. The goal is not to work muscles , fascia, tendons, ligaments, organs and soft tissue, though these anatomical elements are positively affected by the work. Neither is its purpose to simply stretch and apply passive yoga to another person on a floor mat. At its essence, nuad boaran is a balanced blend of physical, energetic, and spiritual healing techniques and concepts. It is the skillful combination of applying both broad and targeted acupressure, finding and dissolving blockages, stimulating energy lines (sen), opening and toning the body with yoga-like stretches, and last but not least, allowing and encouraging the receiver to engage in a process of self healing, deep relaxation, and renewal.

Bob Haddad, Thai Massage & Thai Healing Arts: Practice, Culture and Spirituality

For a little more detail and some photos, check out this page at the Thai Healing Alliance International site.

What the heck made me decide to pursue this?!

Contrary to how it may appear on the surface, I’ve had a long-term interest in natural health and healing. I’ve also had a long-term interest in spirituality. I’ve done a TON of reading and thinking about both, but hadn’t really found a strong application for either interest. Well, I guess maybe it would be more appropriate to say that I hadn’t really applied myself to either interest. At any rate, a lot of this blog has been about me being stuck (it is sad, but true, that the blog is nearly 8 years old. Which means I have been feeling stuck for that long! Yikes! By the way – I deleted most of the old stuff because I’m wanting to refresh). I have just felt kind of dead inside most of the time. Not like I haven’t felt love or happiness at all, but more like I’m just existing: going to work day after day at a job that doesn’t excite me at all, so I can pay bills for things that don’t really mean very much to me, and spend my weekends drinking or watching TV or whatever to drown out the apathy and create a false sense of joy (some of the drinking was fun with friends! But you get the picture – not exactly a healthy hobby!). Life just didn’t seem to have much color.

Over the last seven years I have been making v e r y s l o w progress on getting myself unstuck. There have been many minor epiphanies that have created subtle changes in my thinking/worldview, but no big changes in my behavior. At some point back in February I had a huge babababaBANG kind of epiphany that made me decide to sign up for the Thai Bodywork training. Here is the epiphany: maybe I just don’t want to be a writer. And then: maybe I just really don’t care that much about art anymore. TaDa!

aha momentsI have thought that I wanted to be a writer for my whole life. Because I think I’m pretty good at it. I also thought I wanted to have some kind of path related to visual art. While I was growing up I produced a ton of writing and art, starting at an early age, because I really enjoyed both. But at some point during college I stopped doing both art and writing for the most part. I graduated from college in 2001, which means that I have spent 14 years (not to mention $40,000 on a master’s degree) trying to beat myself into pursuing dreams that had ceased to be dreams. I thought I had a giant fear complex. I thought I was just too insecure. I thought I was lazy and unfocused. I thought so many things that basically amounted to “I’m not good enough.” The truth is that I had built so much of my self-image around those dreams that it never once occurred to me that maybe I just wasn’t interested and didn’t want to do it anymore. You guys, this was completely mind-blowing!

It took me about a month to grieve my old dreams…then I started thinking seriously about what I really DO care about. I asked myself: what are the things that excite you? What are the articles that you actually read? What are the stories that you tune into? What are the conversations about that you most enjoy? They are about lives, spirituality, nature, natural health, environmentalism, and freedom. What do these things have in common? HEALING.

So combine the epiphany, my interests (including my love of yoga), and the business that my husband just started (bodywork), and Thai yoga bodywork seemed like a natural place to start in a new direction!

AND THEN, lo and behold…once I figured out that writing isn’t my Path (with a capital P), and am doing something that feels right for me, suddenly I feel like writing again! Go figure.

Homecoming

Living at my Grandma’s former home, where I spent so much time as a child, I have a lot of moments where I’ll be going about my business and suddenly be transported into memories of the past. I’ll be walking by the green pole barn and suddenly I’m 5 years old and helping grandma put the pets to bed there, or running around on the dusty, straw-smelling floor and climbing up on the farm equipment while dad works on one of the cars, or sitting on grandpa’s lap as he let me “drive” the tractor out of the big back door.

I will be down by the old wooden barn watering trees and suddenly be eight years old and watching my little brother attempt to scale the silo ladder (he fell, and got zapped pretty good by the electric fence). Walking by the big trees on either side of the walkway up to the house, and then I’m four and using the hose to make little pools in the bowls created by the giant old roots. Playing ball with the dog on the drain field, I’m often brought to the oddly silent fort provided by the long, thick branches of the willow tree that’s no longer there, nothing but my nine-year old self, the sound of cicadas and the concentration of weaving willow branches into crowns or bracelets. There are thousands of this type of mental snapshot here.

Me at age 2 standing in front of what is now my front door with my first dog, Tanya.

Me at age 2 standing in front of what is now my front door with my first dog, Tanya.

There are also a lot of moments of just being stricken by the weirdness of carrying out my daily adult life here. I’ll be laying on my couch watching TV and suddenly feel like it’s just too bizarre that I’m watching Family Guy in the same place where I used to watch the Mary Tyler Moore Show or the Golden Girls with grandma and grandpa. Sometimes while I’m cooking it will hit me that I’m walking the same floor, carrying out the same motions, that grandma did while making every meal for 50 years. The weirdest is having fires out in the pit that we made in the pasture, enjoying a couple of drinks, and thinking “what am I doing here, drinking beer and carrying on like the ghosts of my childhood aren’t hanging around?”

Grandma, me and my brother in the kitchen circa 1987.

Grandma, me and my brother in the kitchen circa 1987.

The feeling is a strange mix of deja-vu, amazement, and disorientation that bring to mind the Talking Heads song:

“And you may ask yourself
What is that beautiful house?
And you may ask yourself
Where does that highway go?
And you may ask yourself
Am I right?…Am I wrong?
And you may tell yourself
MY GOD!…WHAT HAVE I DONE?”

The snapshots of childhood remind me about wonder, freedom, and the joyful creativity of being a child left to herself in an expanse of nature.  I can remember exactly what I was feeling or thinking about in a lot of those snapshots. They are amazingly pure visions back into the essence of who I am when all the stress and pressure, failures and semi-mandated accomplishments of my adult life are peeled away.The moments of plain adult weirdness about the overlap of history and present are little shocks of “who am I and how did I get here? What the hell happened?”

Sometimes these moments will make me feel sad, mournful for the perfectly formed little person I was, and for how far she has been buried. Or sad because I feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the decisions about what to do with the gift of this place, and the fear of doing things wrong; especially with the knowledge about everything I’ve already done wrong in my life. Other times, and these are the ones I am really trying to focus on, I am inspired to tug that little girl back into the present and get to know her again. To use her joy and love and fearlessness as a guide for correcting all the things I’ve screwed up while making decisions out of fear. To know that the sudden feeling of elation that comes with that inspiration is what it feels like to do what’s right for my soul.

Even with such constant and intense reminders, it is hard to make the minute clicks in behavior towards more personal authenticity. Frequently I’m lonely and scared and running back towards approval-seeking and all of the other things I do to soothe the unsettling feeling of free-falling into the unknown that being authentic represents. But the moments of heart-bursting “rightness” are increasing, and they are inspiring many subtle shifts in how I interact with the world. I am still very, very tentative, but I am also deeply grateful for whatever currents brought me home to the farm where I can hear myself again after so much time spent thrashing around just  trying to stay afloat. 20140831_220347

Sounds of the Farm

The other night I awoke to the sounds of coyotes in my yard. I hear them every night in my neighbors’ yards, but had never heard them in mine. I assume this is because I don’t have any animals that they like to prey on.  Also due to not having to worry about them eating my property: I usually enjoy the sounds that they make. However, when it’s happening right out your window, it is pretty eerie. As I laid there listening, it sounded like it was actually just two that had become separated from the pack and were trying to get a read on where the pack was. There was a lot of call and response. I haven’t heard them in our yard again since, but it did get me to thinking about the sounds of the farm v. the sounds of the city.

In Uptown the nightly noises were cars, sirens, buses, motorcycles, people yelling in the streets or in the surrounding apartments/buildings, instruments of every type and skill-level blaring out from windows (including beginner trumpet. That was fun! Ugh.). Loud noise was constant there, and I was so accustomed to it that I didn’t really hear it anymore. When we first moved out to the farm the silence was a bit disconcerting. Then I began to notice that it’s not that there isn’t noise, it’s just that the noises aren’t generally as irritating as the sounds in the city: wind in the trees, our neighbors’ sheep bleating or cows lowing, coyotes, crickets, cicadas, birds, distant train whistles in the valley. There are, however, some notable exceptions to the generally peaceful sounds.

First up is gunshots. Everyone around us owns guns and they like target practice. That’s just a given and a truth about living in the country. There will be guns. Despite being generally scared of guns, I know that it’s not very smart of me to be without one myself out there. There are enough large predators in our area that, once we do have animals, a gun will be a necessary evil. I really can’t see myself ever enjoying them, though.

Next is the sound that I like to call “Mad Cow.” Because that’s exactly what it is. A city girl like me had no idea that cows make an insane screechy sound when they’re pissed off. It sounds a little bit like a donkey braying, but every bit as loud as one would imagine an 800 lb animal can be. The nearest cows are at least 5 acres away, but when they’re ticked it sounds like they’re standing in my yard.

This last one is an anomaly, but it’s kind of a funny one. Even though people don’t live on top of each other in the country, the flat landscape on the plateau ensures that sounds carry. It’s not unusual for us to hear music coming from our neighbors a mile away. One Sunday night I was getting ready for bed and, rather than the peaceful sounds of the country, an unwelcome throwback from Uptown began drifting in through my open windows. One of my neighbors was rocking out on his drumset. Like, crazy rapid-fire heavy metal drumming. It sounded like it was in my basement. I am a big music fan, but I have never been big on drum solos (particularly the ubiquitous 4 AM bongo jams that happen at music festivals).

I would have never imagined that I would have to deal with  the infamous “bongo-rage” on the farm, but I felt the flames of the rage rising. Entitled thoughts such as ” this is why I don’t live in Uptown!” and crazy scenarios, starting with me going over and yelling and ending with me calling the cops, went through my head (I was, afterall, trying to sleep. It was 11 on a Sunday! This was outrageous!). After stewing for awhile (this neighbor must have A LOT of energy. He hardcore drummed, non-stop, for about an hour!), I suddenly heard that the drumming was being punctuated by a different kind of percussion: the sounds of sheep bleating. That snapped me out of the rage in short order! Then I just had to laugh at the absurdity of a farm-animal-laced rock-out session. Which made me laugh at the absurdity of how intolerant I’ve become. I used to have to listen to much worse in my apartment. A little farmhouse rock shouldn’t get to me, and is a small, and sort of comical, price to pay for the usual tranquility.

 

Renewal

I have recently been feeling a big pull towards the concept of renewal. It makes sense. It’s spring time, and the winter sucked really hard this year. But I am feeling it in a way that is a little more intense than the norm. I think a lot of it comes from living on a farm, and just being more generally in touch with what nature is doing. Living here forces me to take a more active part in the cycles of the seasons. During the winter I had to learn to just sit with myself a little bit more than I’ve been used to. When big snowstorms came through it could be days before the roads were reasonable for driving into the city. There were several times where we had to cancel plans with friends because, even a couple of days after the storm, it would have taken us hours of stressful driving to connect with them. No plan, no matter how longstanding, is completely within my control out here. When nature has other plans, I simply need to relinquish my will to her.

Being forced to let go has changed me. I have a long-term habit of trying to control my environment in order to feel O.K. I have done this with my behavior and also with my thoughts and judgements. I know that most people do this; it’s what we call “ego.” This strange idea that simply having consciousness means that we also have control. Over and over again in my life I have made careful plans to try to control “my” world, and over and over again the real world has said “fuck you, chicky. This is not how I want it to go and I’m bigger than you.” The point of this blog was, as the name implies, to document my roadmap, my plan, to gain further control over my world. What I’ve learned is that I don’t, and can’t, have control. Trying to wrest control from the universe has actually been the biggest cause of distress and backwards movement.

I wish that I could say that over the long winter I took advantage of having so much unfettered time to myself (true to the story that I always told myself “I just don’t have time to write, exercise, meditate, etc.). What really happened was that, while having to sit with myself, I spent most of my time trying to escape myself. In the absence of my old city-living mode of escapism,hyper-socialization, I turned to higher levels of solo escapist activities: unhealthy and excessive eating, too much TV, too much drinking. Even reading novels can take on an obsessive quality for me. For a couple of months I was in the midst of the deepest depression I’ve had since I nearly lost it at the tail end of completing my master’s degree. I was dwelling a lot on everything that I have not accomplished in my life, and on how my life seemed to just be happening to me in ways in which I didn’t want to participate . I felt hopeless and dead inside, and as usual, couldn’t seem to conjure up the energy to do anything about it.

I’ve known for awhile that I am an escape artist. I can look back at my life and see a clear road to “anywhere else but here, with anyone else but myself,’ wildly zig-zagging and wrapping around and through the hard lines of control that I try to draw for myself. It is the counter-balance to the part of me that wants to control and be too perfect to ever really accomplish or create anything of value because life is messy. After being forced to hang out with myself more, I know more deeply than ever before that the escape-artist in me is there to keep me from seeing the things about myself and my life that I don’t want to see. In it’s most recent incarnation, it has been padding me from the whole idea that I have no control, when the truth is that taking one’s hands off the wheel isn’t the same as being a victim.

I started to come out of the depression in February, and have since been actively poking at the things in my life that scare me. I am still scared, but am coming round to the idea that in order to get past some things, I have to actually go through them. When your hands are off the wheel, your vehicle can go in any direction. It can go to places that scare you, or it can go to places that exceed all expectations of joy. Either way, if you jump out of a moving vehicle you are going to get hurt. The point is that I have to step into my various roles in life. That doesn’t just mean the parts that I “like” or feel safe in. Being able to observe myself a bit more closely than usual out in the country, I didn’t just see what I was doing via my escape-artist, I felt it. In the past I have beat myself up over returns to deep escapism. This time I have some compassion for the fearful parts of myself. However, I feel like the winter was a death-rattle of a lot of self-destructive parts of me. It was a final tantrum of the escape-artist. Now, little by little, I’ve been stepping back into my life. Even the scary parts. It feels like a revival, and even though I’m still uncomfortable, I’m grateful for it.

An Unintentional 10 Miles

One of the many amazing things about living on the farm is that it is 2 miles away from the Minnesota Valley State Recreation Area (SRA). That means that David and I have a lot of options for hiking, which is one of our favorite things. But this is not one of my hiking posts. I will do some more of that in the Summer (I totally just capitalized summer without thinking. Because in Minnesota summer is important and precious enough to be a proper noun!).

One of our favorite hikes is a 5-mile loop in the Louisville Swamp unit of the SRA. We had a rare no-plans day off on Saturday, so we headed out despite the balmy 23 degree weather. It’s not a very difficult hike, but I hadn’t done it since October, and my fitness level has plummeted over the winter (possibly the worst plummet in the history of my life, which is saying a lot because I’ve been pretty bad before), so I was damned tired by the end. At mile 4 there is a land bridge across the swamp. A land bridge that had been plowed through to allow for spring melt. What. The. Shit. Why was there nothing posted about this painful reality somewhere along the trail? There was no way around it.

Since we are somewhat experienced hikers who clearly feel that at some point we should be able to trust our instincts, we made the same mistake that we have made many times before. We thought that there must be a shorter way than walking back around on the same trail we had just traveled. Why choose the path of least resistance, right? No. Instead we added at least an additional 2 miles on new trails by trying to read the most non-helpful trail maps in the universe (if the “you are here” marker is so big it covers up the options for turning, that can create quite a problem), and eventually ended up back on the original trail anyway.

I had been in an obnoxiously chipper mood for the first four miles, while my husband had been a bit cranky (he wasn’t feeling the activity that day due to general winter malaise). As soon as we realized that crossing the swamp was not an option for getting back to our car, my mood quickly swung to “do not talk to me. Or look at me, for that matter.” The extra mileage didn’t improve matters. In other words: barely containing my rage. David has a history of choosing moments such as these to suddenly become wildly optimistic and Clark-Griswoldesque:

Source: brainguidance.com

Source: brainguidance.com

He literally says things, non-sarcastically, like “look at that! Are ya taking this all in?!,” while flinging out his arms as if to embrace the world. I can never tell in those moments whether he’s actually trying to cheer me up, or if he has a death wish.

Also, of course, the elastic waistband on my yoga pants chose to fail as we were on our trek back to the car, requiring me to tug upward on my pants and underwear every 15 feet or so. Because the tiredness, wind-burn, and Clark Griswold weren’t enough.

Needless to say, we did make it to the end mostly-intact. By the time we reached the parking lot, the dogs were looking at us reproachfully (that says a lot, since usually hiking is the best thing besides tennis balls and bacon), and we were very red-faced, hungry and dehydrated. A 10 mile hike is usually a fun thing when that’s what we plan on.

I suppose in the end it’s a lesson in being prepared and being able to be in the moment without getting all pissy when your plans take a turn. I seem to stumble into endless opportunities to learn that lesson…

Wind burn

Wind burn

We Made It: First Winter in the Country is Finished!

Happy first day of spring everyone! Of course, this is Minnesota, so it could continue to snow for another month.

View from my front steps this morning.

View from my front steps this morning.

Let’s hope not – even the cheeriest people around here are hovering somewhere between dead-eyed apathy and full-on stabbiness. I don’t blame anyone, either. It’s been a bad winter all over the U.S., and in MN it is the worst winter for sub-zero temperatures since 1979. Of course it would be a bad one during our first year of isolation out in the country.

Actually, I think that living  all the way out here in the stix has made this winter a lot more tolerable. We don’t have to deal with other people’s stabbiness so much. Nor do we need to deal with  the terrible on-street parking (and associated rules designed for maximum ticketing and towing. Big fundraiser in this state) that happen in the city. Minimal shoveling. We have a guy that comes and plows our driveway. We have a garage in which one of our cars can live so I haven’t had to do any of the dreaded car-brushing or ice-scraping this year. I work from home on the days when the roads are bad. All of this is a significant improvement from the slogging through snow drifts to dig out a plowed-in car only to move it to the other side of the street so it can get plowed-in again over there.

I did go through a little bit of isolation depression back in December. Or it may have just been the standard holiday season depression…hard to say. Otherwise I have been enjoying how quiet it is out here in the winter. The snow is beautiful instead of dirty and gross. Winter in the country feels like a time to rest and reflect rather than like a time to deal with the bad weather while doing the things that you always do like we did in the city. The main drawback has been that, since most of our friends still live in the city, we have missed a lot of events and happenings with them because of the impact of weather on driving.Well, and the other part is convincing myself to leave the house to attend events. Living here has made it hard for me to choose to venture out, despite knowing that connecting with friends is important and worth it once I get going!

The other drawback has been my commute. The fact that I still spend half of my life either  downtown, or traveling to or from downtown, is leaving me with some personal dissonance right now. I am doing my best to process that, but more on that later! For now, I hope you are enjoying a warm-ish spring day!