The fishing was good; it was the catching that was bad.
I’m pulling cactus spines out of my hand, thinking about the near miss I had with dry grass and wading boots and a cliff yesterday – about a hundred reminders of how much worse it could have been had there been nothing for me to grab hold of. I’m thinking about the things that I put myself through in search of fish, and the places I will brave to get my feet in the water. I’m thinking about the missed sets, the lost fish, the time wasted on wind knots and the bruises and scrapes that tally every day I’ve spent on the river this summer. I have a rock guard tan that puts all the work my red head has ever done at the beach to shame. I pull old leaders and caddis flies out of nearly every load of laundry that I do and lament how rarely I wash my hair these days and how often I go to bed without dinner after late nights fishing. Sometimes I wonder what’s wrong with me, but mostly I’m proud of the marks my commitment leaves.
I didn’t catch anything impressive this weekend. In fact, I lost two fish that will probably haunt me the rest of my life. One I never saw save for a flash of yellow belly the size of a melon and the other broke herself off and looked much like Willy as she breached her way to freedom. I swear I saw a small man standing on a rock jetty below her as she cleared the water, taking my fly and line with her, the three of us in the boat looking on with mouths agape, words absent, too dumbstruck to wave goodbye.
It would be easy for me to view the weekend as a failure. The nature of my perfectionism is such that the 19″ brown I caught late saturday felt like a consolation. I’ve worked so hard this summer to get to a place where I feel proficient at fishing, and I’m only slowly realizing that all of this is progress toward a goal much bigger than any fish I have or will land.
I got on some beautiful water – places that most people will never see – places that most people only dream of going, and I fished them for free – with friends, no $500 guide fees or plane tickets or time off from work. For that I am grateful beyond words.
And I have made progress, but it is feels slow and wrought with missteps and mistakes. I think they call that experience, but sometimes it hurts. Sometimes I wish it were easier.
I’m starting to think about fishing much the same way as I think about yoga – now and when I was first starting. There are things that come easily and there are things that I have to work for. There are things that I learn piecemeal and it takes time to see how they fit together. There are times that I have to go into the dark place to see the light. There are times when my only enemy is expectation.
There were so many days that I went to yoga, in desperate need of a lesson, of an a-ha moment, of something to validate the work that I was doing, and those were the days when the epiphany (if there was one) was small and likely nebulous.
This weekend I went looking for that elusive lunker, pig, toad of a fish, but I couldn’t keep it together to land one. That first miss, I did everything wrong. I tried to overpower him, which works on the little ‘bows on my home water but not from a boat in the middle of a big river with a 26″ brown on the line. The second, I did everything right, but she knew the water better than I did and I just got out fished. External validation doesn’t play nice.
The days that I went to class solely for the experience, those were the days that I was open to the breakthroughs. Those were the days that I found myself astounded at how far I’d come, at the big poses I could hold because those were the days that I wasn’t looking for anything specific. The days that I go fishing just to enjoy the sun on my face and river pushing at my legs, those are the days when the fish come to me – big ones, small ones, beautiful ones. Those are the days I remember. Those are the days that I love.
Yoga is teaching me a lot about fishing. On the mat and in the water. I have to be willing to do the hard work. I have to be willing to feel the frustration of missing. I have to be willing to get out of my head and let the experience bring me what it will. I have to be willing to stay in it, to grab onto the thing that hurts, to explore the shadows, to confront what comes up for me, so that on the day that the big one decides it’s time, I am prepared. I am ready.
And though I am often tired and sore and frustrated, and the holes in my hand sting something fierce even though I’m pretty sure I’ve gotten all the needles out, I am remembering why I do this. Fishing isn’t about the photo op any more than yoga is – but that’s a hard thing to remember when you’re in the fight with what could be the big one. My ego has undermined me more than once on the mat, and I don’t doubt that it will do the same on the river – many times over until I get it through my thick skull that it’s not the fish that I’m after.
“The river is everywhere.”
There’s something about home water – a place where you don’t have to think about your setup, your bugs or technical line management. There’s something about a place that you know so intimately that you get lost in the experience and never worry about the details. You know what rig to use based on water speed, depth and clarity, and you come here enough that any changes in those things are obvious. You know where all the hungry trees and bushes and sticks are, and you’ve had enough snags to backcast between them with confidence. Maybe you know that a rubberlegs and a prince nymph will usually do the trick, and you’ll probably hook a nice fish, not a record breaker, but one that puts up a fun fight. Home water is a place where you know the rules, you know what works, and you feel surefooted and steadfast in your ability.
Another thing about home water, what makes it a place of ease and familiarity, is that you’ve put in the time. It’s not something that comes in two or three trips, or even a season. Like any relationship, one with a river is an extended investment – getting to know its moods, understanding what makes it feel generous and what might make it spook. It’s having enough history to know when something’s not working, and enough respect to know when to walk away. It’s coming back again, previous slights forgotten, open to what it may yet offer.
I know my home water well, and love the experience it provides, but ventured to a new spot yesterday, and while I was initially frustrated that I had to actually read the river after a long day at work, that I didn’t know the holes, that I lost my bugs in a tree on my third cast and had to sit down and re-rig, I eventually found a certain rhythm – not mine, but the rhythm of the place. I stumbled some at first – the rocks were a different shape, the water a bit heavier than I’m used to – because I didn’t trust my usual routine, but I knew that there was something there for me.
It makes sense, really. I was only 5 miles from my home water. I was on the same river. The flies I needed turned out to be the same. The stillness I found in the movement of the water was the same. The coolness of wet boots, the same. I even tied the same number of wind knots, but sat down to sort them out with a new level of patience. I took it all in – both what was familiar and what was different – reminding myself that it was the ease that comes from being in the water that I was after, and that’s the same no matter where you’re fishing.
Like all water, this river goes about its business regardless of how I try to control it. In my mind, what I know from home should apply in this new place, but rivers are not rational, they are efficient, maybe even selfish. They do what suits them best, and so do the fish that live in them. Despite my efforts to work this stretch as I would the section that flows in front of my house, I caught nothing. The places where there should have been fish, there were none. The boulders, the drop offs, the tail outs – empty. Or so it seemed.
My night was growing short and I wanted to make the most of my time in the water. I needed to make the most of it. Part of me wished that I’d just gone home, that I hadn’t wasted my energy where I didn’t know what I was doing. I was getting hungry, tired and cranky, but I pressed on.
I worked the bottom of a hole below a large tree; I knew there had to be a fish in there. Just as I was about to re-cast, a strike! I set the hook and that fish pulled like nothing I’ve ever felt on the end of a fly line. He about bent my rod in half as he took off into the middle of the river. I only caught a flash of silver, but I knew I was into a big one. I struggled to stay even with him from the bank, but lost my footing and the tension on my line and he was gone.
I made a few dejected casts where I had last seen him before I moved upriver. I caught small fish here and there, and a few rocks and trees, but my heart wasn’t in it. The same water that was so generous just a few miles away had shut me out. I decided to make my way back to the car with enough time for one last cast at the hole by the tree, at my white whale.
When I got there, I looked around. There were caddis fluttering on the surface, but I didn’t see any risers. It was getting dark and I was a bit cold, but I checked my hooks, my knots. All looked good. I moved my bobber a bit lower, so that my flies would ride higher in the water. The river here is slower than it is at home, so maybe my bugs were dragging the bottom. I positioned myself below the hole, and made a few tentative casts into the gathering dusk. If I caught something, great. If not, I at least found it comforting to know that there were fish in here after all. One, anyway.
I made a point to stay in that moment, to focus on my technique, to pay attention to my surroundings, to think slow but respond quickly. I wanted this river to feel like home, no matter where it runs, and I knew that would take some work. I removed my sunglasses -this late in the day I didn’t need them – one less barrier between me and the fish.
As I stood there, enjoying the push of the river against my legs, letting the day’s frustrations drift away and feeling grateful to live in a place like this, I saw my indicator disappear beneath the mirrored surface of the water, felt the tug on my line. I instinctively set the hook and started to strip. My rod tip began to bend, and the slow, easy smile that comes when I connect with a fish returned. We moved together as I kept the tension downstream, slowly bringing him closer until I could grab the line. I tucked my rod under my arm and wet my hand before carefully lifting the trout from the water. I turned him onto his back so that he would calm down, and removed the hook easily. As I placed him back into the river, I noticed the dark spots on his back and the long pink stripe on his side. He wasn’t my white whale, but he was beautiful. With my fingers light under his belly, I held him for a few moments so that he could regain his strength. He finned in my hand – almost invisible in the water – and then darted back into the current, just like they do at home.
I finally had the opportunity to fish with my Pops this weekend. I’ve been begging him for time on the river since the spring, and though he had plans for later in the day, he gave me yesterday morning.
Now, there is something that you should know about my dad – he is somewhat of a dry fly snob. Actually, he won’t fish anything but dry flies – mostly you just place your fly near a rising fish and watch and wait for it to come to the surface and eat your fly. I, on the other hand, have mostly fished with my man friend – a fishing guide – who is in the business of making sure that people actually catch fish. As this is the case, I have fished mostly with nymphs – two flies submerged at different depths with an indicator (a glorified bobber) so that I can tell when a fish strikes one (or both) of my flies. As my father is quite devout in his application of elevated angling, he went to the river with his preferential setup, and I, just hoping to hook one, took my customary rig.
We drove to the water together on our 4×4 golf cart, headed for the hole where I told him I’d been getting some good action lately. We parked the cart in the tall grass just up the bank, and got out to collect our gear. Now, as I’m standing at the cart going about the business of pulling on my wading boots, I asked Pops what fly he had on his rod, to no answer. I looked up just in time to see him disappear, hobbling thought the pine trees like Sasquatch.
By the time I got down to the river, he’d posted up right at the base of the hole by the big rock where I like to start. Miffed that he’d poached (Squatched!) my favorite spot, I went down lower and screwed around til he got bored. He wasn’t catching anything and started bitching about his fly. Finally he asked to borrow one of the dries he’d given me, and sat down to re-rig. He told me I could have my turn at “yeh motheh’s rock,” since apparently mom had had a good day here once upon a time (something about ritalin and 40 fish while the boys ate lunch).
Well, I pulled 5 rainbows out of there before he demanded I hand over my rod. He fished that hole for thirty minutes with my “dirty mynpho” set up and then accused me of having bent hooks after he lost three fish. We checked – my hooks were in good shape. Finally he claimed his hand was asleep and that he was going to be late for golf.
Needless to say, I couldn’t leave well enough alone. As soon as he left for his 18 holes, I headed back to my one, and caught the biggest, prettiest brown trout I’ve ever managed to land solo. And on my dirty nympher no less. I got a certain level of satisfaction from texting him a pic of the brown while he was on the golf course.
According to reports from lunch, he’d admitted that I’d “smoked his ass” and was turning out to be “one hell of an angler.” Coming from my dad, who knows pretty much everything there is to know about fishing, that’s about the highest praise I could hope for.
Not that we’re keeping score, but I was 5 (10 on the day – including the brown, a whitefish and a rainbow that looked like her girl parts were falling out) to Pops’ zero. While I doubt that this disproportionate level of success will last, I’m going to enjoy it for all it’s worth. For now.
“So, I’m going to need you to help me rig this,” I apologized.
I unzipped my rod tube and handed Kyle the 6 weight Winston.
“Damn,” he said as he took it from me. “Sure as shit looks like you know what you’re doing, Webster.”
“I stole it from my mom.” My folks have more fly rods than I can count stashed in every corner of our house and I had grabbed one randomly. Usually my pops gets me set up and just points me in the right direction. This would be one of the first times that I’d ventured out without him standing over my shoulder (literally) and I was hoping to avoid looking like an idiot.
“Whatever” He laughed as he pulled the fly line through the guides, explaining each step to me as he went and rigging me up with something involving split shot, a nymph, some huge gaudy bug and 8 feet of leader. It looked complicated as hell, but he swore it would work. “Just promise me one thing – when you hook him, let the reel run. I want to hear this Hardy spin.” He handed me the rod and explained the setup.
I did my best to remember all the details, but mostly what I got out of it was that if didn’t wait on this rig before bringing my cast forward, and if I didn’t bring it straight back, I wouldn’t be dealing with a wind knot so much as a wind basket. A hurricane knot, if you will. He had scared me straight. That rod came up and back, hard, every damn time, and I waited with reptilian patience before I flicked it to the water like a lizard tonguing an unsuspecting cricket.
When our gear was dialed, we wandered the bank of the lake, looking for “cruisers.” I wasn’t sure what we’d find out here – “they’ll be big, if you can catch one,” a guide had said. I’d seen pictures of such fish, mostly river monsters though, high twenties brown trout caught by my father or brother-in-law or boyfriend in far off locations with dramatic backdrops, the photo op capturing the truth of the angler’s excitement and the composed energy of the fish, the result of an artful tailgrab. I’m still too worried about the safety of the fish to do much in the pics besides hold her gently in both hands and make sure she’s okay and upright before sending her back into the water.
Though not particularly optimistic, I was curious. I made a few hesitant casts, getting used to my new 6 weight, finally letting her loose and landing about 15 yards off the bank. I waited a few moments, to let the fly drop below the indicator, then gently stirpped in a foot or so of line. I waited again, and just as I began to strip, felt a tug. I lifted my rod high and back to my right to set the hook. A splash and the biggest rainbow I’ve ever seen shot three feet out of the water, successfully freeing herself in the process, and disappearing beneath the glassy surface of the lake. I stood, struck dumb by her size, trying desperately to hold her image in my mind, but she faded from my memory as quickly as the ripples she left on the surface dissipated into the shore. She was gone.
“Hole-leeeee SHIT! Did you guys see that fucker?!” We danced awkwardly on the shore in our waders.
“They’re in there!”
I spanked the water once with the tip of my rod in send off and climbed into the boat.
Despite the initial promise of the breached ‘bow, It was slow going for most of the day. I used the time to work on my cast and we had some laughs in the boat, landing a few fish and hooting loudly when we did, swearing like hillbillies and getting into each fight like it might be our last. We snapped pics on smartphones as proof of our triumphs; few and far between as they were, we felt we deserved them.
The moments I recall though, they’re not what’s in the pictures. I didn’t take any photos of my indicator floating lazily on the lake, and there is no evidence of the missed sets, of chasing risers with late casts and spooking what were surely leviathans sunning themselves in the shallows, oblivious to our desperation.
What I do remember is the weight on the end of my fly rod when I set it just right. I remember the pull of the fish beneath the surface and the tension on my line as I let her run. I remember feeling her give after the final pull, letting me bring her into the net, and the slime on her belly as I ran my wet fingertips down her side. I can still see her cool chrome camouflage gleaming in the long light of the afternoon, gills flaring as she gasped, held aloft for a self-indulgent picture. I remember reviving her in the net, feeling guilty for the photograph and praying silently that she survive my silliness.
I remember holding my breath as I watched her, slowly growing stronger, swimming cautiously from the net, and turning back to look at me just once before retreating into the murk of the lake. I was grateful for the encounter, but happy to see her go.
For now, fishing is just fishing. It’s not an adventure or a sport worthy of some epic documentation. It’s a discovery, and while I wish I could write about it in the same way I’ve written about yoga or travel or whatever, I’m still so lost in the experience that I don’t always recall the things that might make it as interesting to a reader as it is to me.
I’m working on it.
(also published HERE on elephant journal!)
I thought about a lot of things when I first started
doing (excuse me) being yoga.
What kind? What studio? Which teacher? What do I wear? Where do I sit? What will I think about?!
That last one, whoa, that’ll kick you right in the “happy baby.”
Up to my (third) eyeballs.
I remember one restorative class, early in my practice, during which my head was a particular nuisance. I had high hopes for my yoga that day. Our teacher was lovely; the class was lovely; the poses were lovely; I was annoying.
My monkey brain seemed determined to throw the most annoying thoughts possible at me for the entire hour. Well, there was one about Edward Cullen that was nice, but the rest was mostly ex-boyfriends, unpaid bills and the like. While I am usually pretty good at staying centered and focused during class – tuning out the other people in the room, leaving my day at the door – I couldn’t do it. As much as I wanted to just hug my bolster in child’s pose and bliss out, I felt like someone was poking me the whole time like ‘hey! hey! hey! whatareyadoin WHAT ARE YA DOIN???’
OH MY GOD I am trying to RESTORE would you please just SHUT UP!
I buried my face in the bolster and squeezed my eyes shut tight.
At the end of class, while I was sitting cross-legged, trying to keep my shoulders down from around my ears, my hands resting on my knees with palms facing upward, I stole a sly glance around the room, wondering: am I doing this right? Everyone looked so serene; they had clearly reached a higher plane of enlightenment than I had because no one else looked like they were thinking about cheeseburgers.
I was thinking about cheeseburgers, and that guy Mike who I’d met at the gallery last week. Had he been looking at me? Does he like me? Do I like him? I wonder if he comes here. And so on and so on. As soon as I let one of those thoughts in it was like the stock ticker on CNN: an infinite marquee of nonsense shouting at me while I was trying to free my mind, dammit.
The list of things to think about was endless. How was I ever going to achieve inner peace with all this noise? That’s why I was here, right? I was doing the yoga, and while everyone else was all ommmmm-namaste-shanti-shanti-let’s-grab-a-green-drink, I was stuck in the spin cycle of my grocery list, an overdue trip to the dentist, and what I wore to school one day in the sixth grade.
What was I doing wrong?
Put a bird on it.
And then, one day (chest deep in King Pigeon), I realized something: Maybe, just maybe, if I dealt with that credit card bill, it would quit fucking with my chi in class. So after we ommmmm-ed and namaste-ed and drank our green drinks, I went home, paid that sucker, and I never thought of it again. I also friended Mike on Facebook and asked him out. Turned out he had a girlfriend, but he didn’t bug me during bakasana anymore. Boom! Transcendence!
And so became my regular practice: I went. I yoga-ed. I dealt.
Whatever thoughts present themselves, just notice, my teachers so often said. And I did (notice). But noticing, that wasn’t enough for me. I didn’t just think about what came up, I took action. Still angry at my ex? I wrote it down or worked it out, whatever form that took (often electronic and ill-advised, but effective). Feeling bloated? I threw out all the mac and cheese in my pantry and vowed to eat nothing but smoothies for a week (I am rather ambitious after a sweaty vinyasa practice).
If you have any poo, fling it now.
Asana stirs things up; that’s the point. It’s what we do with that crap that ultimately makes our practice worthwhile. When hip-openers make us angry, do we dare look at the debts we might be carrying, where we might be able to forgive? When standing poses feel wobbly, are we brave enough to ask what in our life off the mat seems unbalanced, where we can smooth things out?
For the record, none of us comes to the mat for the first time with our mind a complete blank, ready to get our enlightenment on. Working through our shit is part of working through the poses, and when the physical practice starts to get easier, that’s the time to dig deeper, to push further, to reach for our edges.
Our time with the practice is our time to take stock – of where we are, of where we’re going and of what we’re dealing with at any given moment. For me, so many little things come up all the time; yoga is my way of clearing them out, one by one.
Just cause you got the monkey off your back doesn’t mean the circus has left town.
– George Carlin
And though I’ve reached some sort of temporary equilibrium, my mind is by no means an IKEA closet of organized experiences and expectations. I’ve just turned it into a game of Donkey Kong (kind of like troubleshoots-and-ladders). But rather than wait on the monkey to throw shit at me, I chase him down. I work through a problem; I move up. I find a new problem; I work through it; I move up, getting better with every go, one step closer to catching the monkey.
And we have to remember, especially when we come up against things that might surprise us, movement is is the goal – in our bodies, in our minds and in our hearts. (If we liked the stuck-ness, we’d probably have just stayed on the sofa rather than squeeze into our spandex.) And confronting our stuff is hard work, brave work, but the rewards are real; the freedom of big un-dreamed of things is a possibility worth fighting for.
So get that downward dog on. Face what comes up while you’re staring down at your mat. Sometimes it ain’t pretty, but fling yourself to the edges with wild abandon and see where the yoga takes you. At the very least, it got you off of the sofa.
Wheels keep turning
Don’t like it but I guess I’m learning…
– Peter Gabriel
(Check out this post in it’s published form on Elephant Journal!)
We are constantly faced with decisions – some large, some seemingly small – that affect our overall impression of our success. The easy ones go quickly, smoothly, usually without incident. The difficult ones, well, they’re saved for when we have more time, more energy, more of whatever it is that we don’t have right now.
We must practice making choices to learn how to choose.
Over time, we develop a personal code of ethics, as it were, that grows stronger the more we make use of it, but in order to do that, we have to actively choose at every opportunity. (For the record, not choosing is an act in itself, to be sure, but not what we’re going for.)
I have approached some big stuff in the last year that has required an active and often immediate choice, and though I’d have really appreciated a little extra time, I wasn’t afforded that luxury. I had to act, quickly and carefully, and trust that I knew myself well enough to do the right thing. Not all of these examples may apply to you specifically, but the general idea is to develop a practice around choice and face it in the same way every time. My process goes a bit like this:
What’s best for me right now?
How will this affect me 3 months from now? A year from now?
Is this a net gain or a net loss?
What I am willing to possibly give up right now to better my situation in the future?
Tell your ego to take a hike.
I chose to move home after losing my job. Embarrassing? Yes, but I was fortunate to have parents that could take me in and I had yet to make use of this option, unlike many of my friends. Financially, this was the conservative thing to do and saved me further embarrassment and consequence down the road. And I got myself out of credit card debt as a result. Net gain.
Own your decision even when you may have made a mistake.
I chose to take a job that I was unsure of, but that I knew had serious possibility. Not a huge risk, but again, my ego got involved and I questioned my decision for months. I had already made the choice, but I continued to belabor it in a way that rendered it unproductive. I had to choose again – would I accept my situation and reframe it into something positive or would I hold on to my negative attitude despite the benefits my job provided? I opted for the former, and as a result, improved my position at work, am happier in my everyday responsibilities and get along better with my coworkers. Perspective is as much a choice as anything else. Net gain.
Try to leave emotion out of it. Self-care is a hard-line responsibility.
I chose to give my puppy back to the breeder after three months. Definitely the most difficult of the choices I’ve had to make recently, but certainly the one that has served me the most (isn’t that always the way of it?). Nothing about this was easy. My puppy was damn cute. His breeder was overly nasty to me when I called to tell her that I needed to give him back, even though it was in my contract that should a situation arise whereupon I couldn’t take care of him, I was to return him, no questions asked. I wouldn’t get my money back, and I didn’t want it. I wanted the puppy to have a family that had time to spend with him and I wanted a certain level of freedom that I didn’t realize that I had missed over the past 11 years of being a dog owner.
I knew that it wasn’t working for either of us, and I’d known since the day I brought him home. I was stressed and resentful, he was demanding and excited (as all puppies are). It was not a good fit, and I spent 3 months ignoring it. I finally called the breeder and took the ration of shit she dealt me. I listened as she accused me of ruining the puppy, of claiming that no one would want him. I sat quietly as she wailed into the phone about how I was just making excuses for myself, of how I needed to change my lifestyle to support him. I cried, a lot, and reconsidered, but in the end I stuck to my decision. Our routine was not healthy, and I knew the breeder would find the right home for him. I knew I needed time and energy to focus on my new job, on establishing some sense of community in a new place, on developing a routine that supported me. I had planned my whole life around the puppy and I was miserable.
I ran through my process – better for me right now to not have a dog. Three months from now, I’ll probably still miss him. A year from now, I hope I’ve moved on. Net gain on productivity, sleep, peace of mind, finances and overall stress level. I gave up a beautiful and intelligent animal to be a happier and healthier human. The easy thing would have been to keep him, to feel sorry for him, to get wrapped up in the drama of the situation. The hard thing was to know myself well enough to understand what I needed and take a calculated approach to getting it.
While I was certainly uncomfortable, if not outright depressed, at the prospect of making some of these choices, the important thing is that I chose, was true to what best served me, and moved forward trusting my decision, come what may.
Just do it.
So often we could hide, say nothing, run away when faced with the hard work, but where does that get us? When we meet difficult situations head on – when we leave the relationship, sell the house, quit the job, stay at the job, admit what’s not working, take ownership of our mistakes, apologize – when we stay mindful of our process and keep an eye on where we want to be, the answers are usually obvious even if they aren’t easy. And the more we practice choosing what we need over what we want and what feels right over what feels good, the more apt we are to choose what’s best for us, intuitively and intentionally, every time.
No matter how wrought with drama it may seem, embrace the hard choices – they always hold the biggest lessons and the greatest return.
Once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right.
As I post this, one year ago to the very minute I was sitting in the emergency vet clinic in Boulder. It was snowing like a sonofabitch, and I was holding my boy, a few hours away from putting him to sleep.
The gravity of this anniversary isn’t lost on me, and I think I’ve felt it coming for a while. I’ve been spending a lot more time outside, a lot more time in my own head, working harder at my job, and working harder at pretty much everything else. I’ve been investing time in new friends and letting go of old shit. But this is not a post about losing sweet Cooper, this is a post about losing myself, and finding myself, and how sometimes that process is slow, but eventually we all come out from under whatever it is that’s holding us down. I’ve only just wrested myself free from the weight of 2013 and the lightness that I’ve found as a result, well, maybe it just has something to do with daylight savings time, but I’m making hay, so to speak.
I’ve warmed to the idea of staying in Montana and my outlook is brighter than it’s been since I got here. In fact, it’s damn near blinding, which continually surprises and amuses me after months and months of wallowing in self-pity, pint of Ben & Jerry’s in one hand, bottle of wine in the other, curled up on the sofa by my Christmas tree (that’s still up) killing time and brain cells with a DVR full of shows I’m still not willing to cop to.
Flashback to December of 2012: I wrote a post called The Luckiest, and I was convinced I had it all – the job, the friends, the yoga. I had it so figured out that I shut down the Chasing Arrows blog – which I had started to document my search for the everything – because I had DONE IT. Finished. Kaput. Happy. I re-read that post and I found myself re-writing so many of those words, and thinking about how silly it was that I thought that all that stuff only existed right then and there, and that I thought having it all was about having anything at all.
I’ve realized that the greatest lesson that’s come out of this year is that my satisfaction with my life isn’t tied to a place, or a job, or a group of people. It’s tied to one person. ME. And that came as a bit of a shock.
What got me through this winter of discontent was me. What got me through the teary nights and listless days was me. The thing that I’m enjoying most about my new place and new friends and new job is me. It’s the joy in seeing myself persevere, the joy in seeing myself figure it out, the joy in finding….joy, with me.
And I wanted to share, because I know I’m not the only one who’s felt like a victim of circumstance, who’s felt like the universe has it out for them, who’s felt like they’ll just never get it right. I know I’m not the only one who’s ever thought they’d finally made it to the top, just to get knocked off and have to start over. I hope that those of you who find some resonance with what I’m talking about here find the strength to keep taking small, deliberate actions inspired by your true desire for living this life, and know that there’s really nowhere to go, just someone to be, and you can do that from anywhere.
Much love to all of you who’ve supported me (again) and thank you, as always, for reading.
I got on the river today. It wasn’t part of my plan, but as I was driving home I noticed that the runoff is on it’s way and this might be the last weekend of clear water for a while. I parked in the garage, grabbed my waders off the wall, pulled them on over my clothes and headed out. It was colder than I expected; the late season snow still clinging to the bank in places, but in spite of the PTSD-like symptoms any form of frozen precipitation evokes after this past winter, I found the weather refreshing. I picked my way about a mile upriver in my felt boots to see if anything interesting was happening in one of my favorite spots, but nothing seemed to be biting (or rather, my fly was apparently…not). Regardless, I was on the river on a spring afternoon and though I didn’t do much fishing, I waded through some shit while sitting on a rock in the sunshine looking much like an oompa loompa, courtesy of Simms.
As I look toward the glorious Montana summer, my mood is warming with the weather. I’ve missed being outside – boots and Gore-Tex of some sort guaranteeing me safe passage on whatever path I’ve picked for the day. The solitude that’s pretty much a given out here affords my hyperactive mind a chance to slow its roll after sorting through the barrage of stimuli that rains down on me all week (and being cooped up inside for the last five months has really had me in a state so I’ve been out of doors as much as possible lately).
This past week has seen a lot of chilling-and-thinking-and-abandoning-my-missions. On Friday, I went out looking for sheds as per my post-work ritual of late – wandering among the junipers, bear spray in hand – when I looked up and my jaw dropped. The sun was setting behind the Spanish Peaks, a herd of elk in the meadow below, the river just beyond. I’d been so focused on my osteoid Easter egg hunt that I’d hardly realized where I was.
As I stood there, staring into the long light of the setting sun, I saw more than the trees and the snow and the animals and the water. I saw a change in myself after a year of refining my process and slowly adjusting my perspective. Since arriving in Montana, I’ve felt victimized by my situation, wronged by circumstance and owed by the karmic forces in which I’ve put so much faith over the years. I’ve been in a state of perpetual resentment of a situation that was ultimately of my own doing and while I hated it for what it was, I hated myself more for losing control of it. The change was subtle, and I can’t pinpoint exactly when it happened, but I was no longer feeling so put upon by The Universe.
As I stood on that ridge line, I noticed the shift. Something inside me was growing brighter as the dark crept in around me and I saw things that I’d previously viewed as obligations, heavy obligations, slowly reformed into conscious choices. I didn’t have to give my pup back. I gave him back because I knew that I needed the freedom to be on the wind again, indulge my wanderlust. I gained something big from that decision despite the inherent drama of making the call. I no longer look at my job as what was then my only option before I ran out of unemployment money; I see it as a damn rare opportunity to live in a place that requires most folks of my education and skill set to wait tables. I’m not lamenting the lameness of having to live at my parents’ place; I’m so very grateful that I have a comfy bed and a beautiful kitchen, and that I can walk out my door after work and hop across a stream to wander the woods or fish the river whenever I damn well please.
As the last remnants of the day departed, I knew I should head for home. But as I stood in the woods by myself, marinating on the thought that I actually had all the things I thought I was missing, I was paralyzed. I was glued to that spot, afraid that if I took so much as a step, I’d lose this warm contentment that was beginning to radiate from someplace deep. It grew, and the rush of appreciation for all the little things that have come my way hit me with such force that it physically knocked me to the ground. I sat on my ass in the pine needles, reeling from the realization that I have it again – everything I thought I’d lost and some things I didn’t even know I wanted. And I am so very thankful. I thought about my ability to make meaningful contributions in my community, to create something that hopefully helps others live with more intention and joy, my self-reliance in a place so removed from everything I’ve known – and I was astounded at what I had made out of sadness and anger and insult.
Despite the emotion that still surrounds the catalyst for my move to Montana – losing the Coo Man – I find myself overcome by optimism. I feel more powerful every day as the reality of my capabilities in this new context continues to fill me with an intoxicating mix of elation and veneration for the unexpected joy I’ve found in this wild, remote and often demanding but beautiful place.
As I sat by the river, I thought about my trek home from the ridge line that night, low-hanging branches brushing tears of bewildered satisfaction from my smiling face as I walked down the hill toward my cozy house. I turned my dry cheeks toward the sun and I thought damn, I’m still one of the lucky ones.
And, like I said in 2012, just because you can’t see it, that doesn’t mean the dream isn’t there waiting for you. Mine was, and it still is.
I was talking with a friend this weekend about the recent upswing in my attitude regarding all things Montana, and the conversation was going great until she asked me the following question:
“Aren’t you secretly grateful that you got fired?”
Secretly grateful?! Oh for sure, I definitely look back and think “thanks so much for that!” (But don’t tell anyone.)
Just in case you’ve never been there, getting fired sucks. A year ago, when it happened to me, I lost my shit. And while things are good now – I have a fun new job, my writing is getting some traction, I’ve met some rad folks and am paying off my debt. I bought a new car and I generally enjoy what I see when I look out my window in the morning. But am I “secretly grateful” that I got fired?
Oh hell no.
I was on top of the world. I had the most amazing community, yoga studio, coffee shop, roommates, etc. I still had my dog and I was on my way to a legit PR career. I LOVED Boulder. Let me reiterate – I WAS FUCKING IN LOVE WITH BOULDER. I could have kept on keeping on forever.
But things change, and as someone who gets bored easily, for that I am appreciative. I miss the hell out of my town and my friends (and maybe my paycheck), and while I am not for one second “secretly grateful” for everything that I had to go through to get where I am now, I do see the value of my experience, and what I’ve learned is this:
1. Easy come, easy go. Everything in my life that’s come on quickly has left just as fast. I got my last job in less than a week from “talking options” to First Day. Five months later, I got fired with no notice, no severence, no nothing. A check for hours worked to that minute (it was around 3pm on a friday) and minimal explanation. Same goes for the dude that sent me flowers after a first date and disappeared two months later. The slow and steady is far more reliable.
2. One huge life decision at a time. As a career change had just been forced on me, I spent the week after I got fired going to yoga, hanging out in my favorite coffee shop and hiking with my dog. It was good. I tried to do a little soul searching, but it’s hard to figure out who you are when you don’t know what you’re doing. Keep it mellow.
3. Do not call ex-boyfriends. Memory Lane doesn’t lead to The Future.
4. Manage your damn money. Three months’ expenses in the bank. AT. ALL. TIMES. I’m paying down my debt to ensure that I’ve got the goods to take care of myself should this ever happen again. God forbid.
5. Enjoy the moment. Seems cliche, but you never know when things are going to change. I’m so glad that I took the time to get to know the folks I worked with, practiced with, learned from, loved. I took every opportunity I could to build my friendships, my network, my sense of self-worth, and that has gotten me through the tough times. Invest in The Now – it will serve your future in ways you can’t imagine.
When shitty things happen – take it in, learn from it and make the best of whatever your situation might be. But, sweet lord, please don’t gloss over a heavy life experience with some woo-woo bullshit that really just makes the people who “want you to be happy” feel better.
When it comes to being grateful – I want to make sure that I am doing it right so I looked it up:
grate·ful [greyt-fuhl] adjective
What I find “pleasing to the mind and senses.” Right now. And it looks like this:
(Check out this post in it’s published form on Elephant Journal!)
Naked yoga classes piss me off. Well, not the nudity so much as the sales pitch. I’ve done yoga naked in the privacy of my backyard plenty, but because I liked the feeling of sun on my bum, not because I was trying to overcome body-consciousness or vulnerability.
As women, we are bombarded by a host of body issues every time that we leave the house, or turn on our computers (the guys are too, I know). And I think it’s safe to say, it’s been proven time and time again that taking off our clothes with strangers doesn’t make us feel better about ourselves. I think that doing the work involved in a focused yoga practice and finding good teachers who understand the things that come up as we peel back the layers of our experience are far more effective ways to confront our reflection than just getting naked. For many, throwing yourself into an overly vulnerable situation too early can even make things worse. As my teacher Shannon says, “sometimes you have to move slow to move fast.” Sometimes the best way to make big progress is to take lots of little steps.
I’ve taken LOTS of little steps since my first “real” yoga class in October of 2009. I showed up in baggy pants and a t shirt and remember being super nervous that I wouldn’t know what to do and very concerned that if I stuck with this whole yoga thing, I would have to wear spandex. The horror. I may as well get naked. Fortunately, the teacher reminded us throughout the practice that the only thing that mattered was what was happening on our mats. Not the one next to us or the one in front of us, the one we were on. Everything else, she said, was pretty much none of our business. So all I had to worry about was a two by six foot rectangle. Seemed doable.
Eventually, I got some leggings so that my teachers could see my alignment, but that first time felt a lot like being naked. And I definitely pulled on sweats before I walked out the door. I was nowhere close to sports-bra-and-short-shorts land (I’m still not), but I was more focused on the work to be done and less worried about what I looked like doing it. A step.
Moving back to Boulder for teacher training was a game changer. Boulder yogis are experienced, strong and really attractive. And everyone had mala beads. I was like WHOA when I walked in to my first class at om time, but tried to remember what my teachers in Raleigh had said, “none of your business.” As we moved through our first practice as a group, I realized that I was the only one who couldn’t lower into or lift out of chaturanga without looking like I was doing the worm. I got adjusted 5 times but just couldn’t do it. Talk about feeling exposed! I felt like a phony. Who was I to think that 18 months into my practice I could cut it in Boulder? I dropped to my knees in chaturanga. A step back for my ego, but a step forward for my practice. Move slow to move fast.
I’ve been lucky to have very good teachers – men and women who understand the evolution that we are presented with in a regular yoga practice and who have the skills to coach us through it. In a new studio, I look for teachers who present the form as a guideline, something against which we can measure our progress, but which also moves with us, always changing depending on what we’ve brought to the mat. Alignment is a crucial part of the practice but takes time to refine. The function of asana, however, is always accessible, ready for us to ask, how does it feel? And we learn to compare ourselves only to ourselves. Where am I today relative to where I was yesterday? What’s that about? What can I do in this moment to learn from this experience? Small steps toward a bigger goal. I wrote and practiced and wrote and practiced and yoga became my personal forum where I could explore what I was capable of, both on and off the mat. And I began to see and feel a difference.
My physical strength grew, as did my mental and emotional stamina as I confronted some very difficult times in my personal life. The yoga was coming at me hard and fast and it was a lot to take, but I practiced in a safe space and I stayed conscious of my edges and moving at a pace that felt comfortable to me. Even despite my deliberate progress, I had my moments. One night, I looked over at the guy next to me, effortlessly floating from down dog into a pike into a handstand into a forward fold. I felt like a do-do bird just trying to get off the ground. I tried to stay in my body and think of how far I’d come, but I was at a loss. I’ll never get there. I just need to accept it – I’ll always just look like a baby giraffe on ice skates.
As if on cue, Shannon announced, “stay focused on your work.” She said, “do not covet thy neighbors asana!” We laughed and I thought about it. She was right – both about wishing you had a nicer ass and wishing you could do whatever it is Susie-feet-behind-her-head is doing two mats over. When it came time to sit cross-legged, the flying man’s knees were up around his ears. Mine were flat on the floor. And while I secretly hoped he was wondering how my hips are so open while I’m envying his ability to stand on his hands, the takeaway is that we all have our places of strength and our places of flexibility and none of us comes to the mat with the same work to do. Our biography becomes our biology and there’s no going back – we are a perfect combination of our successes and failures, our loves and losses, our wins and missteps. We can be only who we are, and do our best to see that person, to get honest with that person.
Yoga, for me, has been a way to develop and respect my strength, a place to confront my past and bring the best parts of myself forward, acknowledging how I got here no matter how uncomfortable that can be. This practice has required that I stay with the movement, not trying to get to the next thing but respecting the transitions, even when that process is painfully slow, and sharing those experiences with others even when it was scarier than if I had just taken off my clothes.
So when I came across an article (read it) on a studio that offers naked yoga classes with the claim that “practicing yoga naked frees you from negative feelings about your body and allows [you] to be more accepting and deeper connected with yourself and the world around you,’ (non-sexually, of course) I got all kinds of hot and bothered.
From my experience, I don’t see how doing yoga naked with a bunch of other naked people is going to free us from shit, except maybe worrying that we bought the see-through lulus. And getting naked, arbitrarily I might argue, with people we don’t know, won’t make us feel better about our bodies. Doing the work, on our mats and in our hearts, is going to make us feel better about our bodies. Learning to value our strength is going to get us past those negative feelings. Finding the edges within our practice, pushing them, exploring the space we create, retreating from them and delighting in the ease that we find – that will allow us to be more accepting and deeply connected with ourselves and the world around us.
But if we go into a room full of strangers and take off all our clothes, and expect for anything to happen other than maybe we get desensitized to nudity, we might be fooling ourselves. To the girl who claimed “when we’re naked, it’s like we’re all the same” – listen sister, this isn’t Everybody Poops. This isn’t a kids book showing different body types where all the people are shaped like fruit. While the photos in the article show people who are all relatively fit and attractive, I can’t think of anything more different than a bunch of naked people standing around, each with our own patchwork of scars and wounds and experiences.
So if you’re thinking about trying naked yoga, maybe ask yourself: How does looking at other people naked make me feel better about me? I know that If I’m worked up about someone in class who has nicer yoga pants than I do, I probably won’t be to get past the chick with an ass like Giselle’s on the mat next to me either. Those issues are still there – clothes or no. My practice is largely about kindness – toward myself and toward others – and moving at my own pace. I don’t push myself into poses I’m not ready for and I don’t share parts of myself I’m not ready for the world to see. And while I understand that seeing other people’s imperfections might make some people less concerned with their own, I don’t think that going to yoga naked will make me feel less vulnerable. I greatly value the process of doing the work, from the inside out.
While I have no intention of baring my asana, I’ve had some seriously vulnerable moments in yoga, and I’ve been able to expose things that are far more private than my backside because I felt safe. I wasn’t worried if someone was looking at my boobs. I wasn’t wondering if my Britney was going to stick to my mat. I was practicing in a way that made sense to me, with teachers who were willing to help me confront the mess that yoga sometimes makes of our lives, and as a part of a community that I knew would catch me if I ever fell. THAT is how yoga helped me get over my body issues. THAT is how I learned to love myself, to respect my strength and cherish this bod that’s carried me around through thick and thin. THAT is how I did the work, everyday.
And so to the studio owner who says that practicing naked is “about being comfortable in your own skin and the amazing confidence that comes with it” – that’s earned; it’s a process. And for those of you thinking about trying it, please remember that yoga will help you find freedom, but it will take time and come from baring your soul, not your skin. Anyone who says differently is probably selling something.
As a part of the ever-evolving process, there are things that we get to do that are awesome (creating!) and things that we have to do that are not awesome (paying off credit cards!).
I decided to write about dealing with debt because I know not all of us were born with the gene that can resist a free shot glass from a credit card company on the first day of college, and if you’re going to do anything professionally, you have to handle yourself like a pro, everywhere. And sometimes we have to do the things that suck in order to continue to do the things that rock.
That said, I sat down this weekend to do my taxes and figure out my finances to the penny. (See image, above.)
Now, one thing you should know about me is that I hate money. I feel like paying off debt is giving money away (newsflash: you already spent that quan) and every time I feel that squeeze on my resources I get constricted in other areas too. I can’t create when I’m stressing about cash. Actually, I can’t create when I feel like I owe anyone anything – money, favors, energy, an apology – debt is a major fucking drain, so own up to that ish so you can get back to business. Nothing knocks the muse off her horse quite like an unknown blowing up your iPhone mid-brilliance – really, who has random numbers from Minneapolis or Phoenix calling them midday? – and that shit’s embarrassing to say the least.
If you’re like me, then at times you may have gotten creative about how you fund your art – and I don’t mean you got a custom credit card design with one of your drawings on it, I mean maybe you thought you knew more than you really do about imaginary numbers and string theory when it came to financing a project. What I’m saying here is get real about debt so you can get real (awesome) about creating. Money, favors, a thank you, a killer pair of boots you borrowed… OWN UP and GIVE IT BACK. You’ll feel better. Truth.
So I made a list of everything I owe, and it was less scary than I thought. (NOTES: A number is way easier to deal with than a blob of WTF SO WOW DEBT! And I am not including my student and car loans on here because I’m focusing on the overdue small stuff that affects your credit and your ego.) When you’re doing this, you need to be LIKE WHOA honest with yourself because, trust me, the dude who’s going to blow you up about paying it off is going to have the real numbers. No sense in kidding yourself. Math is not creative. Numbers don’t have a sense of humor (though my student loan is full-on comedy), and for what it’s worth, neither do bill collectors / the IRS / whoever invented long division. ————–> (not funny)
Then I made a list of my non-negotiable monthly expenses – gas, rent, food, insurance, etc. – and wrote down exactly what I bring in a month, figured out what I have leftover to put toward my debt and how many months it would take me to pay it off. (MATH INCOMING)
If my salary is A, my expenses are B, what I have leftover to put toward debt is C and DEBT is D (duh) – it looks like this:
(Also: the only time I will EVER use Comic Sans.)
Still with me? Sick. So now I have a list of everything and a schedule for paying it off (JULY!) After which I can start in on saving and investing in the fun stuff. AND, everytime I get a paycheck instead of feeling all:
So while there’s no easy fix and I wish it were way more fun, all you need to do is:
1. GET HONEST
- make a list of everything you owe. Everything. This is not the time for artistry, this is the time for honesty. You can lie to yourself all you want, but the guys calling you twice a day, they have the numbers and they better line up.
- add it all up. Circle that number.
2. GET CLEAR
- make a list of your (non-negotiable) monthly expenses. Food, gas, rent, car payments, etc.
- add it up.
- what is your monthly income? write that down.
- Subtract your expenses from your income, and what’s left over?
3. MAKE IT RAIN.
Pay it. Pay it. Pay it. The rest is yours!