Become Home

I love the musical “The King and I”. And I love Yul Brynner’s portrayal of the king in the 1956 film version with Deborah Kerr. But one of my least favorite quotes of all time is from this film, when Brynner’s king says, “A girl is like a blossom, with honey for just one man. A man is like a honey bee to gather all he can. To fly from blossom to blossom a honey bee must be free. But blossom must never fly from bee to bee to bee.”

Can I get a collective, “uuuuggggghhhhh”?????!!!

When was this EVER ok? Um….like till yesterday! Or, depending on who you talk to, even now.

Regardless of your sexual orientation, religion, physical challenges, height, age, ethnicity, political affiliation or nationality (I’m sure I’m missing some important categories–sorry!), if you identify as female, you probably identify with this. I am imagining many of you silently nodding your heads, remembering times in your life when your body was not your home, when it was the canvas others would paint on, when your perfect expression of your physical appearance did not match the collective definition of what a body should look like, when your voice was too loud or your hair too-whatever!

I recently came across a poem by Nayyirah Wahid, entitled “Three”. The following lines brought tears to my eyes: “and i said to my body. softly. ‘i want to be your friend.’ it took a long breath. and replied ‘i have been waiting my whole life for this.’”

Now, can I get a collective long exhale? A long out-breath, a letting go of all that stuff that kept us from befriending our bodies, from being or feeling anything other than what felt right for us? See, it’s not about whether you wear makeup or work out or wear trousers or skirts or eat Twinkies or green juice; it’s about why you do what you do. Do you make choices out of love, honoring your perfect body or are you trying to be something you think you’re supposed to be? Do you hide away the scars of sexual or emotional abuse, convinced that if anyone really knew you, they’d reject you? Your body, your story, all the stuff you did and all the stuff done to you is all acceptable, all worthy of embracing, all worthy of healing and love and maybe even a little laughter from time to time. (I personally find laughter very therapeutic. Maybe it’s my dark absurd humor that appeared after many years of living in Russia. I love Russia, don’t get me wrong, but it can be a dark place and sometimes the only way you can make it through is to find the humor.)

I digress…

It’s time to come home. Into our bodies. It’s time to celebrate our particular iteration of what a body is. So Yul, I love ya, but nah…I’m not going to be anyone’s blossom.

Cup of Love

A few weeks ago, a friend and I were commiserating. We were sharing recent moments of insecurity and some tips that had helped us in our respective low moments. My friend said that she had bought a mug with some positive affirmation; I can’t remember what it was but something along the lines of “you’re great” or “gratitude is a good thing”. And since then, my friend said that when she was feeling low, she’d make herself a cup of tea in her special mug, grab a decadent cookie and sit and soak in the good vibes. I thought, yep I’m going to have to steal that one. So I went out that afternoon on a mission to find my mug. And what found me (I do believe she found me and not vice versa) was my “Moonchild Mug”. She said, “take me home you wild child, and drink from me when you need reminding that you are amazing”.

But drinking my strong black coffee every morning from my Moonchild Mug doesn’t meant that all my insecurity disappeared.

I have this theory…I think we all come into this world with a cup of love. And somehow at some point–maybe in the womb, maybe after a dysfunctional relationship or a lifetime of being frustrated with catcalls, that cup gets drained. And we subconsciously go out into the world seeking for that cup to be filled. We become like Oliver Twist with our empty porridge bowl, asking, “more sir?” Why?

In the forward of Sonya Renee Taylor’s book, “The Body is Not an Apology”, Ijeoma Oluo writes “there are no epiphanies that outweigh a lifetime of conditioning”. As such, there are no amount of affirmation-laden mugs that will erase a lifetime of self-loathing and body shaming. I love the title of Taylor’s book, in which she lays out for us what radical self-love looks like. It is not acceptance, she states. It is not putting up with. It is saying–I LOVE all of mySelf. I don’t tolerate myself. I don’t say, well once you lose weight, get a job, get that Ph.D or become sweet and martyr-like, or have kids or have a relationship or become uber spiritual or flexible, then only then will I love you. No, it says right now with chocolate ice cream spilling down your face, with a body that IS WHAT IT IS, with a stack of books next to your bed that you want to read but can’t manage to because you’ve been re-binge watching “Friends”…I LOVE YOU.

Seems obvious, but as Taylor points out, it’s radical. Radical because we don’t do it! Let’s start. Let’s start loving all of ourselves. Then, let’s start loving each other. Then let’s surround ourselves with other loving people and keep the haters at bay.

Yes, I still love my Moonchild Mug and I love pouring myself that first cup of coffee every morning. But I also need to help fill the mugs of my loved ones and sometimes I go to my team of safe and loving people and say, “more sir?”

Dual Citizen

Growing up in an alcoholic and abusive home, I learned early on to hide the hurt. I learned to disassociate. I got very good at lying to myself and others. And, I developed a very presentable impression of a person who had her shit together.

But I definitely didn’t and somewhere in some closet there was another me. Hands tied, mouth gagged. The madwoman in the attic. A lot of effort went into keeping her quiet.

Maybe it’s age, maybe it’s all the therapy, maybe it’s the accumulation of thousands of downward dogs or green juice or meditation, but I can’t silence my madwoman anymore. Writer Anne Lamott describes herself as having dual citizenship “as children of God, [and] as regular old mixed-up, worried, flawed, precious human beings”. So, Public Service Announcement: my mixed-up flawed precious self is coming out of the attic. And she’s stretching her arms. And belting out an Aretha Franklin song and channeling Jennifer Beals in “Flashdance”. And like her, I’m a maniac. If you don’t get the reference, check it out on Youtube.

My inner maniac, the once I’ve silenced because she has weird cravings, likes to write at midnight, drink way too much coffee, and read books that make her cry, is fun and passionate and mysterious. She’s the one who inspires most of my poetry, who wants to climb mountains, learn Swedish, and move to Israel next year. She is the one who loves her children till it hurts, writes poems to her husband, and wants everyone in the world to love everyone else in the world. She’s innocent, naive, obviously embarrassing to her children who wonder when their mother will take off her yoga clothes and wear real clothes. She is the one who laughs through tears, who feels every age she’s ever been and gazes at the stars, certain she’s the reincarnation of some goddess.

Why would I want to silence her?

Life is messy. Complicated. Mysterious. But, it’s time we invite all of our amazing selves to the table and throw a party. Put on the Aretha or Bonnie Tyler or Taylor Swift or my new favorite–Esperanza Spalding. Serve ice cream or frozen yogurt, meatloaf or smore’s. We are beautiful. Messy. Flawed. But oh so interesting.

Playing in the Fountain

It’s been a while since I’ve written, but I’m back…

Last week, my eighteen year old daughter and I went to the farmer’s market in Little Italy. It was a warm San Diego morning, like the mornings I remembered from my childhood in San Diego, but so different from the humid St. Louis summer mornings I’d become accustomed to. It was a perfect morning–piping hot Americanos bought at a food truck, essential oils for anxiety bought from a woman who gave us a ten-minute history about the sourcing of her oils, fresh strawberries tasted, ginger kombucha tasted, and a pain au chocolate bought that rivaled any Parisian version we’d tried. And to top it off–cheesy violin covers of Christina Aguilera songs. Perfect.

As we walked back to the car, we happened upon a city water park where children were playing and screaming in the summer heat. I was so happy to see their happiness and I also felt a twinge of sadness, realizing that those days were over for me. Then I asked myself–“what days”? The days of joy? Of wonder? Of love? I realized that one of the aspects of my soon-to-be empty nest that was so painful was that I felt that a part of myself was dying–the part that felt joy and wonder and love. But, that isn’t true.

The amazing gift my children gave me (and still do!) is that they taught me love. Yes, I know my parents love me and my husband loves me and friends love me, but the first time I experienced unconditionally loving another was the day my first child was born. Out of nowhere, this messy ball of new life had captured my heart, and she has it still, as do my other two children. My heart, that had been so wounded by trauma and rejection, and physical pain, had cracked right open on July 8, 1999. I knew what it was to love, irregardless of anything one may or may not get in return. By loving my children, I understood how I am loved and accepted and wanted by God.

And somehow, unconsciously, I had thought that my children leaving meant that I would be cut off from the big L–Love, as if I’d have to go back to my closet of despair and self-loathing and insecurity. How wrong I was. You can’t put love back in a box. Once we have tasted it, there is no going back. The love I have for my children is the big L–Love for them, love for myself, love for my husband and parents and puppy, love for my community and the plants and flowers, love for those who challenge me, love for the current moment that is often quite painful for me, and love for God.

Love is energy; it can neither be created nor destroyed. It has always been there, will always be there. Maybe it was my children who opened my eyes to love; maybe for you it is your pet children or your music or a partner or your art. Maybe it is wonder or curiosity that grabs your heart. Whatever it is, LOVE–is. Sometimes I forget; sometimes I’m not feeling it; sometimes I feel deeply lonely…when I do, I try to focus on loving another–and then the hearts cracks again, sometimes through tears and anguish, but it cracks, widens and find more and more love.

Just Being

“Nowhere to go. Nothing to do. No one to be.” -The Buddha

When my kids were little, we lived abroad, and we’d usually travel back to the States at least once a year to visit the grandparents. Upon landing, I’d have to fill out a landing card, and I always got stuck at the empty line, waiting for me to write down my profession. Usually, feeling exhausted and frazzled after flying with three small children, I’d write something like professional juggler, driver, caterer or psychologist. I’d chuckle to myself and would usually get a smile out of the TSA agent reviewing our documents.

My profession for so many years was defined by all the big and small things I did as a stay-at-home-mom. And I loved it…well, most of it. And now that my youngest is leaving in a few months for university, I find myself asking…what would I write on my landing card now?

For a perfectionist, like me, the above quote by the Buddha is a very scary proposition. Nothing to do? For the person who stress-cleans at 2am? No one to be? Nowhere to go? If I am not busy taking care of others, who am I? If I am not going somewhere where am I? I’ll tell you where I am…in that crazy place I call my mind–the mind that stays busy with negativity–pushing me to be better and do better, the mind that protects the heart from feeling, the mind that got me out of poverty, and the mind that is satisfied never being satisfied.

But what kind of a life is that? There is no peace in that. Or joy. No time to stop and smell the proverbial flowers, or linger upon a particular sentence in a book, or slowly sip coffee, or…finally begin interacting with that inner child, who has been crying out for love and compassion for, well, a long time.

So, maybe the job title I’d give myself right now would be a version of the Buddha’s quote: “A person learning how to just be”…

Trying it On

“My worth started with me trying on my faith.” -Sarah Jakes Roberts

In a recent interview, when asked how she created her sense of self-worth, after years of insecurity and self-hatred, Sarah Jakes Roberts replied with the above quote. She went on to explain that at first she didn’t believe she was worthy of love or respect or that she had anything valuable to contribute to the world, but she decided to begin living AS IF she did. And slowly things began to change.

I can relate.

I think life is a lot like the children’s game Chutes and Ladders—you try to climb up the ladders but with one unfortunate roll of the dice you’re back at the beginning. Sometimes I feel like my spiritual journey is like that…years of prayer and meditation and yoga and then life surprises me with loss or change or transition and I’m back in the trenches—doubting my self worth, my purpose, my parenting skills—heck I even doubt whether I drive or cook well. WTF???

And no amount of mantra repetition or chakra breathing changes those old tapes in my head.

Hopeless…and that’s when it gets scary, but actually that’s when I cry out and say—God help me, God who am I and why am I here and what is all this sorrow in my midst??? And I hear—you are magnificent, destined for greatness, the world needs you and your beauty and passion and unique talents and skills. And then I say to myself—well, even though don’t feel this, what if you acted AS IF you did? How would you live? What choices would you make? How big or small would you live? And then I can take baby steps…

We can’t always feel confident or loved or worthy but maybe—in the dark night of the soul moments of our lives, we can “try on our faith”, we can reach out to loved ones to remind us of our better selves and we can remember to love and honor wherever we are.

So wherever you are—high or low or somewhere in between, think about trying on your faith, reach out to others for support and love and be there for others when they need you.

Blessings,

Tara

Stepping Stones…building my team

“There are no steps, just stepping stones.”

Gabor Mate

I have begun building my team–my intersecting, eclectic, multi-talented support team. These are the thinkers and philosophers and poets and friends and family who inspire me, teach me, guide me, open my heart, and help me hold my pain, and give me the strength to hold the collective pain. There’s Maya Angelou and Rumi and Rilke and Mary Oliver. And William James and Gabor Mate and Kristin Neff and Dick Schwartz, and Jung of course. And my mom, and my good friends, and my husband and children. For so long, I wanted someone to point the way, clear the path for me and give me those easy-to-follow steps. But, as Gabor Mate points out, there are no steps. We get glimpses and pointers, but it’s up to us to figure out what works, what resonates, what heals. But one thing I am sure of–we can’t do it alone. We need to build our teams so that we hold each other–all our pain, all our joy, all our love.

State of Mind

“Imagine if our negative feelings, or at least lots of them, turned out to be illusions, and we could dispel them by just contemplating them from a particular vantage point.” -Robert Wright

The term “toxic positivity” is everywhere. It seems we go from one phase of punching pillows with unresolved childhood angst to positive psychology and podcasts dedicated to happiness even in the darkest of times. And now we’re talking about toxic positivity and the danger of burying grief and sorrow. It seems like we put a lot of energy into attaining ideal emotional states. But this is emotionally draining and unnatural. It is normal and natural in life to think and feel a variety of thoughts and emotions. And it would seem that a better focus of our energy would be toward curiosity and understanding the state of our mind, rather than forcing or denying our real lived experience. Everyone we meet is a teacher; everything we think and feel is a teacher. Some teachers are fierce and unrelenting; some are gentle and loving. But all are part of the beautiful and mysterious web of life.

Care—of all kinds

“You are not broken, in need of fixing.Rather, you are deeply hurt, in need of care.”

-Arielle Schwartz

So many of us are hurting right now—whether from the lockdowns or illness or financial challenges or isolation or the presence of old traumas triggered the current state of our world. Let’s just be honest—it’s hard right now, downright painful at times—not all of the time, but enough that we can at times feel overwhelmed. And many of us interpret our pain as a weakness, and maybe think if we had just meditated more or not eaten that ice cream or kept a gratitude journal that we wouldn’t feel our pain. There are definitely skills we need to add to our “well being toolbox” but some days are just hard and on these days we need care—all kinds of care—minus the self-harming and illegal variants of course! We need warm baths and loving self talk. We need good movies and reaching out to a friend. We need to be ok needing another and we need to remind ourselves that this too shall pass.

Changing our Relationship

“Rather than changing or not having the thoughts and feelings that make up our experience, mindfulness is about changing our relationship to them.” -Judson Brewer

My three children were quite young when we moved to San Francisco. They’d wake up early with endless amounts of energy and we’d head out in search of yet another playground or park. One early morning, we happened upon Washington Square, where crowds of elderly Chinese people were doing Tai Chi. The children and I were mesmerized. It was a dance of sorts, a conversation with the trees and the air and one’s physical reality. Years later, I still call upon that image when I feel stuck, when I feel I’m a odds with life, and I’m reminded that maybe I need to channel my inner-Tai Chi practitioner and tap into the message life is sending to me, to work with life rather than against it, and to question where my resistance is. I remind myself of the flowing movements I saw in San Francisco all those years ago and that flow just feels better than going upstream; and let’s be honest—it rarely works! So the next time you encounter resistance, ask yourself—can I change my relationship to my current situation? It’s not easy, but with practice, we begin to feel the peace of being real with our thoughts and feelings and real with our situation.