Thursday, December 31, 2020

The Treasures in Your Baggage


You know when you go on a trip and buy a special souvenir? Like a tiny ceramic vase or a silk scarf? Maybe a special bottle of olive oil or a beautiful antique sterling tray from a flea market? You know how, when it's time to pack, sometimes you have to leave something at the hotel? Maybe a sweater that you never really wear or a pair of shoes that it turns out just aren't that comfortable? It's often an impulsive decision, a rushed moment where you have to zip your suitcase and everything simply won't fit. When you get home you rarely miss the sweater or the shoes. You get joy from looking at the little vase on the bathroom shelf or wearing the new scarf. These new items bring memories of your journey and you are glad you brought them home with you.

In a few years' time, you might put the vase or the scarf into the Goodwill pile. The olive oil either went bad or it is all used up. You regifted the antique tray to a friend who had a birthday and you forgot to get them a gift. Those special items have served their role and now they can move along. 

When we make that decision to leave our old sweater or shoes in the hotel in Belize and take home the vase or the scarf, we are deciding to let go of the old and bring in the new. And we do this time and time again with each year that passes. Change is the one true constant in our lives. 

The New Year is a conscious opportunity to look inside our baggage. New Year's Day feels cliche, and to many, it is an annoying and stress-filled day. The pressure to know what to commit to, to declare as a resolution, feels contrived. But really we aren't coming up with anything new. The resolutions, the commitments, are already here. The New Year is simply a chance to look into the suitcase and see what we've acquired in our travels in the year passed and decide what we want to keep. It's an acknowledgment of what we've learned on our journey.  And then, just like making the hard decision on your trip to Belize, in the same way, you'll note what hasn't really been useful and leave that stuff at the hotel. 

I am a constant seeker of souvenirs. I am forever hunting for treasures that will symbolize where I've been. This year, in my travels through the Pandemic, I added more writing, a love affair with the Peleton, and a daily dip in Lake Washington to my suitcase. I love those treasures and I want to keep them. I'm not practicing yoga every day like I used to, just once or twice a week. And I'm not baking as much as I did in the past. There's simply not enough space in the bag for all of it. 

But as we come to a new year I spend some time deliberately thinking about the things I've added to my baggage. These are my chosen souvenirs from 2020, the treasures in my baggage, the precious items I am excited about that remind me of the journey I'm coming home from. These new souvenirs are the things I choose to keep. Next year will be different. Maybe yoga will start to come back, or baking. 

2021 is a new adventure, an opportunity to collect souvenirs as we go. As we move through the next year, instead of holding on tight to each new resolution, just be aware of it in your life. Does it serve you? Are you using it often? And be an explorer in this new year. What feels good? What is interesting or invigorating? Collect the souvenirs as they come and at the end of the year, you can look into your suitcase again and decide what to keep and what to leave behind. 

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

On Being a Twin

Being a twin is one of my two-truths-and-one-lie tricks. If we didn't grow up together or we're not close friends now, you'd never know that I'm a twin. It's always a surprise to people when I say, "I have a twin." To parents on the street pushing twins, I always stop and admire the babies and, at some point declare, "I'm a twin," noting my belonging to this special club that fewer than four percent of humans inhabit. Being a twin is an experience only twins can understand. My twin sister Katherine and I used to laugh and call ourselves "wombmates." From our conception, we were never alone. We were always a part of one another, completing one whole. Though we occupied different physical bodies, we existed in reference to each other.

One of my regular practices is Yoga Nidra. As part of this practice, we contemplate opposites. This mental shift, from one sensation, feeling, or thought to its opposite, opens up a greater expanse of awareness. Not only are we able to move from a potentially entrenched experience to it's opposite, but we open ourselves up to all of the experiences in between and beyond those two opposites.

In all of my years of writing about my emotional musings, I have only touched on my experience of being a twin, but in reality, it is one of the foundational pieces of my identity. It occurred to me the other morning as I was meditating, that for me, growing up as a twin was like being one of the opposites. When I was young, I was very shy. My twin sister Katherine was incredibly outgoing. I was an athlete, a swimmer, one of the quietest, most independent of sports. Katherine was a thespian- a drama star at our little high school. I was awkward socially and she was gifted, popular with all of the cliques. I am grateful that she forever let me tag along to receive little sprinklings of her social magic. I would never have been comfortable going to parties, concerts, and school events without Katherine. She was my confidence and my guide in this realm that I had never had to develop on my own.
We were like two halves of a whole, two pieces of a puzzle, Yin and Yang. Katherine was the lighthearted, funny one and I was the serious, worrying one. As an adult looking back now and knowing more about child development and family systems, I understand that we were perhaps guided into those roles to complete a larger family picture. As I watch my daughter, an only child, navigate through her world, one part, one whole, I can see how different it might have been to grow up not being a twin.

In Yoga Nidra, we try to see the preferences we have and to soften our grip on those preferences. I prefer to feel happy and playful, but fully welcoming the experience of sadness and despair helps me understand that, without those emotions, there would be no happy and playful. Without one, there is no other. Ultimately, preferring one emotion over another does not serve us because we need all of the emotions to feel any of them. Seeing opposites enables us not only to release our preferences for one or the other but helps us to see all of the other stops along the way.

For many years, I felt like the unpreferred twin. I was stuck in my role of the serious twin, the rigid, uptight one. And Katherine was locked into her role as the life of the party, always being happy and light. We both felt pressure to keep our half of the circle intact. We first separated in college. I went south and she went east. It was a micro-separation and we remained very close. At first, the space away from Katherine was painful. I didn't understand how to access the pieces of myself that Katherine had occupied growing up. I felt like an imposter--being social, taking up space in that way, trying on the role of playful and fun.

After we both graduated from college we moved west together, forging a new path together, falling very much into the same roles we occupied in high school. This lasted for a few years and then we began to move apart again, this time in a bigger way than we had in college. First, we moved to different apartments and then to separate states, and eventually very far apart emotionally, almost alienated from one another. In hindsight, I think the alienation from the other was a subconscious distance Katherine and I created so that each of us could step lightly into the realm of "other."

Those were hard years. It felt unnatural to be so distant from the person I thought I needed to complete me. I wasn't yet comfortable occupying space that used to be hers. But as we stayed separate, it got easier. Our former opposite selves became neutral-- neither good nor bad, neither mine nor hers. In getting enough distance from our former identities of two parts of one whole, we could see that we no longer needed to dwell in our formerly-defined parts. In the physical and emotional distance we created, we were able to see and feel our whole selves. And we were able to finally see each other.

I still feel out of place at times. Making new friends is hard for me and I'm still socially awkward. My default is still rigid and uptight. I know for Katherine too, it has been a long, complicated journey to move away from the expectations of who she was when we made up two parts of a whole to the person she is now. It's a neverending road, this path to wholeness. Contemplating how we limit ourselves, our possibilities, our preferences for ways of being, is painful but important. For me, having the perspective of a twin is a clear way to look back and see how I limited myself because I thought I couldn't be like my twin. I could only define myself in a way that made sense to complete our puzzle.

I am still serious and I still worry (a lot). Katherine is still funny as hell and is often still the entertainer. But we're both greatly changed, expanded. We've learned to dip our toes, and sometimes our whole bodies into what once was our opposite, our twin's role. I am far more social now than Katherine. And she is much more serious than I ever was. To look back and see our journeys is to understand the importance of welcoming everything, opening up and making room for all the pieces that make each of us whole.

For me, having the clear reference point of being a twin allows me to see how easy it is to get stuck in a role, to limit myself to one way of being. In looking back over my own history, I can see how slowly moving away from the tight twin circle I used to inhabit has helped me to become a whole of my own. Like a meteor breaking apart in space, the fireballs and sparks that come from the explosion light up the universe with possibilities. In breaking apart, we become complete in a new incarnation of wholeness.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Everyday Gratitude

Feed Freckles, make my coffee, write a little bit, jump in the lake, go in the hot tub, make my oatmeal, start the day. My day starts early, somewhere between 530-6 am. I love the early morning when the black sky slowly lightens and the outline of the trees and power lines and houses around me become visible. On lucky days, the sky might eventually brighten to a swirl of orange or pink or purple. 

I love tiptoeing across the dining room floor so I don't wake Lucia below me. I love turning on the coffee pot that I prepared the night before, opening the fridge to get the milk, and steam it in the frother as I prepare Freckle's food. I love the moment when he gets his first mouthful of food and I get my first sip of hot coffee. 

I love lighting my candle, sitting down at the dining room table, and writing the thoughts that visited me as I slept. I love the moment when I close my notebook, grab my towel and robe to meet Genessa for our daily jump in the frigid lake. I love the short conversations we have to and from the lake. I love when we have time to jump in the hot tub for a few minutes to warm our freezing hands and feet. I love the tingling feeling that comes as my body goes from the extreme of cold to warm to hot. I love boiling the water for my oatmeal, greeting my family as they wake up, and talking about what the day ahead will look like. I am filled with a profound sense of gratitude by 8 am every morning. 

I am a creature of habit. Regularity is like a big, heavy, warm blanket for me, the feeling I imagine a toddler has when her mother scoops her up and envelopes her after she's wiped out on the playground. Each morning ritual is like a deep breath, soothing me, and reminding me that I am safe and sound, that I'll be here again tomorrow, same time, same place. 

The pandemic time has given me permission to live this heavily ritualized life in a way that I didn't before. Pre-pandemic, every day was different, depending on what appointments, plans, or meetings I had going for the day. Now a plan is a big deal. Going hiking with a friend means figuring out how to get there in two cars, where to pee along the way, what sanitizing products to bring. Even going to the grocery store includes thinking about the time and how busy it will be, reviewing my list multiple times to ensure that I get everything we need, and of course wearing a mask. I don't want to make plans anymore. It's too complicated. So I keep with the simplicity of the structure I've created.

What will happen when we return to how it was before? Will I be able to maintain this heavy, warm blanket feeling? Will I make time for these rituals that bring me so much comfort? Will the feelings I have now live inside of me in a way that I can touch back into when my life looks and feels very different?

I fear the next phase. As much as I want to hug my friends and live without worry and despair, I fear what I will lose when I am not steeped in this feeling of gratitude for the tiny moments of joy for coffee, oatmeal, the lake, the hot tub, my precious full mornings. When I taught yoga I would tell my students to experience the moments when they felt really present and alive, to be still with those feelings so that they could tap into them when they needed them during moments when they craved that peaceful feeling. "Try to embody this moment right now" I would say. Embodying comes from living something, doing it so much that it is in your body, like a new organ or appendage, whatever the thing is, it becomes part of you. 

My hope is that when we come out of this pandemic, I will have embodied this sense of gratitude for the small things that I have now. That I will walk around with these tiny memories coursing through my body, reminding me of the possibilities that live inside of me. The future is unknown. I can't say if this set of beautiful morning rituals will be with me in one month or one year. All I can do right now is stay with them, keep practicing them, and taking time to feel the joy that comes from each and every moment. And then hopefully, in six months or two years from now, I'll remember this time and it will nourish me as it is now.




Saturday, December 19, 2020

Lessons from the Passenger Seat


I didn't learn to drive until I was twenty-two. My twin sister got her license at sixteen but I never felt the need. I grew up in Chicago and rarely left my neighborhood. When I did, it was easy to get my sister to drive me or to take the bus or the train downtown to go shopping or see my grandparents. I went to college a short plane ride away and on one of my trips home, the woman checking me in at the gate asked for my driver's license. I only had a state ID, a form of identification commonly used as a fake ID back then. The woman told me that I'd need to bring a passport or driver's license the next time I flew. So, that summer my mom gave me a few lessons in the parking lot of 47th and Lake Shore Drive and I took my test. I passed, but barely.

My car is cracked or dented on all four corners, each bumper showing signs of ineptitude. It's a family joke and I take the ribbing about my poor driving in stride because, let's face it, it's all true. I'm also highly anxious and kind of overbearing. When my daughter Lucia turned fifteen, we started talking about her learning to drive. Because of my nagging, anxious tendencies, and my less than stellar driving history, I was considered the last person in her cadre of supportive parents and stepparents in her life to be her driving mentor.

Lucia and I started driving together a few weeks after she started her online driver's ed course during the beginning of the pandemic. Taking practice drives to the drive-thru Starbucks a few miles away was a great way for Lucia to get a little bit of driving experience. After a few drives, Lucia said, "Mom, you are so relaxed when I drive. It's surprising!" And she was right. I felt completely at ease, wholly trusting of this 15 1/2-year-old new driver. I didn't worry about her navigating the tight corner into the drive-thru. I didn't worry about her pulling up too close or too far from the payment window. I didn't worry about her at yellow lights or left turns. 

Having a teenage daughter is the gift our mothers give us. I remember my mother saying, "I can't wait until you have a teenage daughter." And now I say those exact words to Lucia. I am the most uncool, most annoying, least understanding human in my daughter's life. I don't "get" anything. My rules, ideas, and suggestions are an insult to Lucia's budding independent spirit. Her developmental cues are telling her to be in charge, not me. And of course, I, as her parent, still feel compelled to offer my guidance, to shepherd her into adulthood safely and securely.

But, when we are driving, when I am in the passenger seat and Lucia is behind the wheel, there is a recalibration of all the energy that we normally create when we are together. I surrender to her being in charge. Not consciously. It just happens. Maybe it is my lack of driving expertise that renders me so comfortable with Lucia at the helm. But whatever it is, it works. When the two of us are in the car, we are in a groove. She's in charge and I'm not. 

When we are at home, my role is to be in Lucia's business--- about her school work, cleaning her room, her phone, her plans. She never asks me for advice about any of this. She doesn't have to because I always preempt her. It's my way. But when we are driving, Lucia has questions. She needs me and she gets to be in the role of asking me for help. She has technical questions about rules of the road (which I generally cannot answer), but also subjective questions like, "Should I start changing lanes now?", "Why didn't that guy use his blinker?", "How should I pass this biker?"

It's a perfect situation. I, as a poor driver, have little room to offer advice. I'm inexpert and it works for Lucia because, in almost every other realm of our lives together as mother and daughter, I am (or at least I think I am) expert. It's great practice for us both. Lucia gets to drive. She will have to be in charge of this task eventually, both in the car and in other realms of her life. And I get to take a back seat, something I have accepted as a passenger in the car but will have to embrace more fully as Lucia's independence grows. I'm grateful for this driving experience we are sharing. It's a microcosm of the bigger picture of our lives. I, the worried, neurotic, clinging mother, get to watch my smart, capable, competent daughter moving towards the ultimate independence she will soon fully inhabit. Lucia is a good driver. She's on the road and she's going to be just fine. 



Sunday, December 6, 2020

The Space Between

Photo by Genessa Krasnow
We're so close to something big happening, some kind of change. I can feel it. But at the same time, change seems infinitely far away. It feels like Groundhogs' day every day. In the last ten months, I've had moments of feeling okay, even kind of evolved in my perspective about the teachings of life in a pandemic. But I'm not feeling like that right now. I am heavy and dark and carrying the weight of it all right at the center of my chest. It feels like a ten-inch lead cube wedged right at my sternum, sharp and pushing up and down and to either side. I know it is anxiety. I know, because I can psych myself out of it. When I laugh I can breathe. When I am writing I can breathe. When I am doing craft projects or baking I can breathe. It's when I am talking to someone about the news or looking at my calendar trying to make plans or lying in bed in the dark before falling asleep, following one rabbit hole of fear after another, that I cannot breathe deeply and fully.

The more I lean into my anxiety and fear, the more I understand about it. I still struggle with my heavy, tight chest, but I am learning more about it. I am unveiling new truths about how to welcome the anxiety and form a relationship with it. The more curious I become about my anxiety, the more I can see what is on the other side. A week ago my friend Genessa and I decided to do a cold plunge on Sunday morning. We went down to Lake Washington at 8 am and dove in. It was freezing but invigorating. We decided to do it again the next day and the next and the next. We've done it every day for a week (I missed two mornings and her one for work), and it's become something I look forward to doing at the beginning of my day. My sixteen-year-old daughter Lucia even joined in two days in a row. 

What I notice about the plunge is that there is much to learn in the moments right before the plunge and right after, but the greatest teaching is in the one second of actual submersion.  Right before diving in, I feel afraid, resistant. I don't want to be that cold. I could just turn around and put on my robe. But then, almost like tricking myself, I do it anyway. As quickly as I dove in, I rear up out of the cold water, screaming, running for shore. I am elated, excited, flooded with happiness. In that moment I can do anything. I am exactly where I should be.

In that moment between the fear of diving in and the joy of popping back out, there is complete and utter stillness, like pausing a movie or a total blackout. The shock of the cold water is so forceful that, for a moment, I lose all of my memories of the past and worries for the future. I am completely present to that singular moment between fear and safety, warmth and cold, resistance, and triumph. 

In that split second, I am the confluence of all of those opposite thoughts and sensations and emotions at the same time. And it's like a magic portal opens and there, on the other side, awaits joy. I can breathe deeply and fully into both lungs. The giant lead cube shrinks to a spec. I can see, in technicolor, the sky above me, the pebbles on the beach, the geese flying just above the water. I can feel the air on my skin, the gentle wind tickling the droplets of lake water. I can hear the laughter of Genessa and Lucia, their joy meeting mine like a wave as we all make our way towards shore. 

Schadenfreude: FOMO meets Fairness

When I hear about people going to parties or I see photos on Facebook of friends with their arms around each other I get mad. I saw Alicia K...