Monday, September 23, 2019

Hello Turtle.

My friend Kate told me that one of the ways you can identify your spirit animal is if it appears to you frequently. For years my spirit animal has been the Great Blue Heron. Everyday when I walk on Lake Washington near my house I  make it a point to see a Great Blue Heron. Usually one just appears like she's been waiting for me, but in the last few months I've not seen herons as frequently. Last month I was feeling particularly stressed and I took a walk. I got it in my head that I would feel better if I just saw a heron. But there were no herons in the usual places. In a desperate effort to find one, I walked seven miles (3 miles more than I usually walk). I finally found a heron but my stress level did not diminish. I'd simply traded in the stress that I started with for a new stress to find a heron!

Lately on my walks I've been seeing lots of turtles. Turtles are prolific in Seward Park and I often see them but I don't usually stop and look at them. They frequently dot the rocks between my house and the park, but I usually just notice and continue walking. Today it seemed that every rock, and submerged tree I looked at had a turtle or two sitting in wait for me to notice them.

That's when it dawned on me that maybe my spirit animal has changed. When I got home from my walk I looked up the symbolism of a turtle spirit animal and learned that when a turtle spirit animal appears to you it is time to slow down. The turtle totem offers an invitation to stay focused on one's goals, but to take it slow and steady. For me, one who does most things at warp speed, this is a new approach, and a welcome invitation.

Having looked up my Turtle spirit animal definition, I needed to look up the symbolism of the Great Blue Heron to remind myself of what I might be leaving behind. The Great Blue Heron symbolizes self-determination and self-reliance. The indication for those who carry this totem is to follow their unique wisdom and path.

All day I've been thinking about the significance of this shift. For years I have been working hard to connect with my intuition, to make my own voice the strongest in forging my true path. And for most of this time the Great Blue Heron has been appearing to me.  I love the Great Blue Heron and I felt kind of sad that, for whatever reason, the Turtle now seemed to be replacing the Heron. But the truth is that at this time in my life I do feel more connected to my intuition and my path feels grounded in my own truth. Though I'm sad to leave the Heron, it makes sense that I am being visited by the Turtle-- invited to slow down, quiet down, and stop racing.

Not everyone in my life believes in the symbolism of spirit animals. I get it. It's not based in biology or psychology or physics. It's possible that spirit animals act as a kind of placebo-- offering meaning and context to a situation one is already experiencing. That works for me. The Heron and the Turtle and all the other spirit animals that visit us help connect us to the big picture, they offer explanation outside of our own heads. They remind us that there is wisdom everywhere if we look for it.

Monday, September 16, 2019

From freedom to liberation

A few days ago my 14-year old daughter Lucia went to deliver a shirt she was selling to a friend of her's in a neighborhood north of ours. To make money Lucia has started an Instagram account selling clothes she no longer wears. She's slowly building her business and I'm proud of her efforts. After delivering the shirt and collecting payment, Lucia took a JUMP bike home, $12 burning a hole in her pocket. I can't lie. I was relieved that she made it home without me dictating directions to her ( and without a helmet!) I tried to play it cool and not ask too many questions about her adventure and the whole day went by without any detail of her solo voyage.

But yesterday morning when we were eating breakfast Lucia said, "Mom it was so crazy yesterday. I was riding home from Camille's-- I had money, a JUMP bike, Google Maps, and my Orca card. I could have gone anywhere."
"Wow," I said, "How did that feel?"
"Great!" she said.
I felt happy for her. What an amazing milestone in life, to figure out something momentous like that, to consciously recognize that freedom. Last night when we were saying good night Lucia brought up that feeling of freedom again. "Mom," she said, "I could have really gone anywhere. I mean, I didn't have a charger, but I could have just stopped at someone's house if my phone died and asked to borrow one."

Lucia had so much joy, so much energy in the recognition that she could make her own decisions, point herself in whatever direction she wanted, and get there! She had everything figured out. I tried to think back and think if I had ever experienced that clear moment of freedom in my own life. I remember once after my sophomore year in college, taking my mom's Suburban from Chicago to St. Louis in the middle of the night without telling her. I had to collect a bunch of stuff I'd left in my college apartment before I went away to Spain for the year. I remember driving with my sister Katherine and my friend Meredith all night. I remember arriving back in Chicago at dawn, trying to make it home before my mother would detect the car gone. I remember that moment, feeling free like I was doing something insane and wild and out of my norm.

When we get older we don't have such keen moments of recognizing our freedom. After a certain point, we do mostly make our own decisions. We drive cars. We have jobs to make money. But there are moments that we experience newfound freedoms as we get older. There are obvious examples--- like leaving an unsatisfying job or a relationship. There is the bittersweet freedom of watching our children grow away from us. There is freedom in downsizing our space or our wardrobes.

The sweetness of freedom that Lucia experienced for the first time on that JUMP bike is probably a once-in-a-lifetime Ah-Ha moment. And I know Lucia will keep experiencing new moments of freedom throughout her life. When I think about it, I can identify lots of little moments where I felt free from fill in the blank.  But the freedom I'm feeling now feels more similar to what I heard Lucia describing-- a freedom to do something, go somewhere. What I'm experiencing in my life right now is liberation from perfection. During my 20s, 30s, and 40s I tried desperately to meet some external expectation of perfection. Now, in my fifties, I feel free to be supremely imperfect. This newfound liberation from perfection is inspiring. I feel energized and excited. Thanks for helping connect the dots, Lucia.

Monday, September 9, 2019


I recently cashed in all of my work credit card points to buy a ticket to Oakland to get my sister's dog. I bought a stupidly expensive and impractical ticket leaving Friday, returning Saturday to meet a deep need I didn't fully understand. I just knew that I wanted to bring Freckles the dog into my life.

I arrived around 7 pm on Friday with enough time to hang with Freckles and my sister, collect his bed and a few of his belongings, stuff him into a too-small soft travel kennel, and get on a noon flight Saturday. When I arrived in Seattle I freed Freckles from the too-small kennel and we headed for light rail. I planned to walk the mile and change to my house but Freckles was simply too tired so we got on the bus. When we got home Freckles, severely overweight and out of shape, was limping and exhausted. So, I did what any good dog owner would do-- I gave him a long bath. That night we had the biggest thunder and lightning storm in recent history and Freckles spent his first night squeezed between me and my partner Nancy with Nancy holding her hands over his ears and me rubbing his fat tushy. It was a really hard day and night for Freckles, but he woke up the next morning ready to start the day anew with a walk and few naps between morning and evening meals.

This is a strange time in life. My daughter is in high school and it feels like she's in college. I never see her and when I do, it's fleeting and unfocused. But I know she's happy and doing what she's supposed to do. I've been doing my job for close to twenty years, a whole generation of my life. The yoga studio mostly runs itself and I have time to explore new creative and spiritual passions. Why, in this time of newfound freedom do I want a dog?

Today I went on a walk with Freckles. Then I brought him to a meeting. Then he came to work with me. Then the bank. He's sitting right here as I type this.  The obvious answer to why I chose to bring Freckles into my life is to fill a void, to refocus my need to take care of someone and to be in charge. And there is that. But there's also the pure joy that comes from my new little sidekick who simply is exactly who he is. He doesn't look at his phone when we take a walk. He isn't distracted by work or friends or money. Seeing Freckles live every moment like he does is just what I need. In this time of constant change and the potential to get highjacked by things I have no control over, it helps to check in with the energy Freckles brings. It's not that complicated, his eyes tell me-- some food, a walk, maybe a nap, more food, and a good night's rest. Then do it all again tomorrow. Thanks, Freckles.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Happy Tears

One of my students Carie told me recently that happy tears flow from the outside corners of the eyes and sad tears flow from the inside of the eyes. We'd been talking about how crying is such a great release, a natural producer of oxytocin. It's why kids always seem so blissed out after a temper tantrum-- it's because all of that crying has given them a flood of the happiness hormone.

I love learning things like that little factoid Carie shared. To be honest, I don't even really care if it's true that happy tears come from the outside corner of the eyes and sad tears come from the inside of the eyes. If I think too hard about whether it is actually a proven fact, I'll start to contemplate duct location and eye anatomy and that takes the romance right out of the concept. So I'm just going with it.

My friend Kate and I facilitate an annual retreat-- Put Some Claws in Your Pause-- honoring the amazing passage into menopause and we always finish the weekend with a recitation of a poem called Santiago by David Whyte. Santiago is a heartbreakingly beautiful recounting of the emotional and spiritual journey of The Camino de Santiago, a 500 mile pilgrimage through Spain and France. Kate cries every time she reads Santiago.

When Carie shared that little fact about tears, an image of Kate popped into my mind. I could imagine her sitting in a circle surrounded by ten other menopausal-aged women facilitating the final moments of our retreat. Smiling out to the group, Kate begins the poem and as she reads, through a steady stream of tears, she uses the index fingers of each hand to gently wipe the tears from the outside corners of her eyes under her glasses. And when the poem is over Kate takes off her glasses and does one big wipe of each eye, clearing away the tears. There is a brief silence as the poem settles in the space around the room and then Kate smiles big.  The joy is palpable and we all smile back at her. Those are some happy tears.

Work Life Balance

Yesterday while I was working I thought to myself, “I could do this all day long!” And that’s a good thing because that was the plan. I rece...