Embracing our RV life

I am here to check in and share an update about where we’re at with our RV living.

Grant (hubby!), Clyde (cat!), and I have been fulltime RV’ing in West Glacier, Montana for almost three months now. We’re adapting to this new lifestyle in what seems like fun and exciting ways.

I started this blog post a few times now, but I recognized that I needed to give myself more room to experience our life here first before writing about it. I also waited for the inspiration to write.

For our first 2+ months here, we were dry camping. We used an external generator to charge our battery for electricity. Grant also installed solar panels on the roof of our RV as we set our sights on living [mostly] off the grid. We had filled up our water tank once in April, and managed to only use this water for our kitchen sink for two months. No showers. No toilet. We showered at the employee fitness center and used the campground’s restrooms. It worked.

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But alas, those days without hook ups are behind us (for now). Temperatures are hovering in the 80’s and we are quickly appreciating our new RV hook ups, with the use of AC.

In my blog post from May 5th, I had shared that I was still figuring out a job here and was unemployed. At the start of June, I began a full time, seasonal job with the National Park Service as an assistant to the Public Affairs Officer. It was a fortuitous job opening and I feel very fortunate to have it. I am brand new to the National Park Service, but not to federal employment.

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Already, my job has provided some unique opportunities. During my first week, I traveled with the local media crew up to Logan’s Pass on the Going to the Sun Road to see the snow plows in action, learn about the current snow conditions, and discuss the potential road opening for the season.

Through work (can I call it play?!?), I was invited to attend a Blackfeet Native American Blessing Ceremony dedicated to the opening of the road and the safety of all visitors who will pass through this area. The ceremony tradition first began with the initial opening of the road on July 15, 1933. However, the tradition was lost for many years. Fortunately, the ceremony was reintroduced in 2016 and has been held every year since. This year, only tribal members and park employees were invited to attend.

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Another cool work-related opportunity was to attend an outdoor education class offered through the Glacier Institute. Fittingly, the Glacier Institute’s motto is Learning Gone Wild. I attended their High Country Exploration course where we walked the Scenic Point trail in Two Medicine. Attending the class felt like a dream come true; it’s been something I have always wanted to do but never did. It felt thrilling to be guided by a woman who is a botanist, outdoor educator, and writer who after 30 years of teaching was still as exuberant as a 5-year old in sharing her love, fascination and knowledge of the flora, fauna, and history of the park!

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The Glacier Institute hike inspired Grant and I to travel back to Two Medicine over this past weekend for another hike. One thing we’ve both realized in living here is that neither of us are itching for a vacation. It’s a new feeling for us. I’ve always been inspired by the quote, “Create a life you don’t need a vacation from”. I know that this is exactly what we’re doing here. I may want a vacation, but that’s a different energy than one of need.

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What I notice the most about living in Glacier is how spacious I feel. I’m eager to learn and experience the park, yet also to simply relax and enjoy the simple pleasure of a sunset, a bird song, or a crackling campfire. I sense the reverence people hold for this place. It’s compelling to live immersed in a place that so many people appreciate and hold sacred.

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I didn’t really know how we would adapt to this lifestyle, how we would like it, but it’s been clear to both Grant and I for many years how much value we place on being in the outdoors and in the mountains; a daily renewal with Mother Nature.

Last weekend, we kayaked on the north side of Lake McDonald. At one point, I paused in the water and simply looked around, breathing in fully, deeply and expansively. I was feeling appreciation for the abundance of it all. Throwing my head back, I giggled aloud from sheer delight. YES! This feeling—this love, this connection, this celebration of all of life, this feeling of magnificent appreciation, this sense of wonder and true pleasure—now this is who I truly am, and what I’m here for.

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If I could offer you one gift, Meditation would be it

Sitting down to write this, I take a deliberate peek out the window. My eyes immediately light up as they take in the gentle sway of the tree branches outside our RV window. Pausing in stillness, my ears dance to the sound of the morning birdsong. Placing my feet firmly on the floor, my back resting upright against the seat cushion behind me, I set an intention for my writing, to share from my heart the value I have personally experienced through a daily meditation practice.

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Morning meditation

It was never my intention to become someone who meditates. A meditator, if you will (ha!). Meditation simply fell outside my scope of interest. First off, it seemed pretty obscure. I personally didn’t know anyone who actually meditated on the regular. Second, I didn’t understand its purpose or value. I had all sorts of other activities I loved to do that helped me to decompress (hiking, yoga, biking, lifting weights, running or walking). I felt like that was all I needed. So what was the point of meditation, exactly?

During my teaching fellowship in Indonesia, I ventured solo to a weeklong yoga and meditation retreat over the New Year leading into 2016. I came for the yoga part of the retreat; I’ve been forever changed by the meditation.

Stopping in Ubud, Bali for one night prior to the retreat, I attended my first yin yoga class. Do you know what yin yoga is? It’s a practice where you hold each pose for approximately 3-5 minutes. The class was in a beautiful open studio with a bubbly creek right outside. It was idyllic, paradise really. But my mind screamed restlessly at me throughout the practice. I thought it was really hard. I didn’t realize at the time how much slowing down my body would stir up my mind. My mind felt cantankerous, unwilling to play this new game.

The next day, I arrived at my retreat. Our mornings began with a silent walk together to the beach on the east side of the island, Gili Air. Arriving at the beach, each of us spread out continuing our silence through a morning sunrise meditation practice. The setting was indescribable, but my mind was still so restless. I could hardly sit still for 2 minutes, let alone the allotted 40. Yeesh!

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Sunrise meditation Gili Air, Indonesia

Fortunately, our teacher had given us three meditation options: seated, standing or walking meditation. It was clear to me that I could not do the seated meditation; I wasn’t ready for that. So instead, I opted to either stand in the sea with the water dancing about me or walk a slowed, intentional pace along the beach. Ah much better than seated meditation, said my mind.

After the retreat ended, it had affirmed how much I loved my yoga practice but I still wasn’t certain how I felt about meditation.

I returned to Padang, Indonesia where I was teaching English, and in February 2016 I decided to try out Sharon Salzberg’s Real Happiness 28-day Meditation Challenge. One of the most valuable lessons I took from her teachings had to do with my relationship with sound. Sharon offered up this teaching: when you observe a sound, the sound is simply happening—it comes, it goes. It is our relationship with that sound—giving it value or rejecting it (especially rejecting it)—where we struggle. Instead, might we allow the sound to simply be there without overly identifying with it or pushing it away? [At this point, can you see how this teaching on sound might apply to any condition you’re struggling with in life?]

For a long time, I had been overly stimulated by noise, by sound. I would often feel overwhelmed in crowds of people or with a lot of talking. When my husband and I were in graduate school in California, I had a hard time walking down a busy street with him, as the traffic noise would distract me to the point that I couldn’t concentrate on our conversation.

This same pattern of being disturbed by traffic and a lot of noise had traveled with me to Indonesia. But through Sharon’s teachings, I learned about my own agency in improving my relationship with sound. I learned that it’s about how you focus on what’s happening that matters. In this scenario, by rejecting certain sounds (esp. traffic) I had unknowingly created a lot of unnecessary suffering in my life by trying to change or alter something I couldn’t control. I couldn’t change that these sounds were happening, but I could change how much attention I gave to these sounds, how I perceived them, and their value.

After discovering this important teaching, I began taking my meditation practice to the streets, incorporating it in small ways throughout my day.

For fun, I began challenging myself on my daily commutes to campus. I had about a 30-minute walk, mostly uphill, to my office. My commute took me next to a busy road with many cars, motorbikes, buses, music blaring, horns beeping, car exhaust and heat swelling all around me. It was a perfect blending of seeming chaos. And yet, I was having the time of my life! I started focusing on things to appreciate. I started noticing the plants and the animals and the sky, feeling into the wind, and breathing deeply and intentionally to calm and cool my body. I would slow down my walk to keep cool in the heat, but also take time to appreciate the feel of my hip joints or the stretch of my legs as they moved at this slower, more intentional pace. I would savor the feel of my body moving steadily, rhythmically uphill. Essentially, I had introduced my own walking meditation in that busy hustle of life.

In March 2016, I decided I wanted to start a daily meditation practice, which I’ve been doing pretty consistently ever since. Two years later, meditation is the most valuable thing I do each day. And the funny thing is that it’s not about doing anything other than being intentionally silent and with my present moment experience.

Right now my meditation consists of a 15-minute meditation practice followed by 15-minutes of journal writing. And trust me, I am not overly rigid about what this routine looks like. I know myself well enough by now that if my practice starts to feel too disciplined (read: not fun) I-won’t-do-it. Period. So instead, I give myself grace each morning as I listen IN and feel for what I want to do for my meditation practice. For the time being, 15 minutes feels right. Sometimes, I want to sit on my yoga mat, or in a chair, or lie on my yoga mat and breathe, or sit outside with my back against a tree, or listen to a guided meditation, or pet my cat. I love to take my practice outdoors. Other times, I want to do a walking meditation or simply look up at the sky, out towards the mountains or the water and just breathe, soaking it all in.

The most valuable gift I’ve received through my meditation practice has been to show up for myself every day with kindness and compassion. It’s allowed me to care about how I feel, listening inward as I honor and allow for my inner experience of life. I have an increased capacity to notice and appreciate my life like never before.

So much of what I had previously struggled with has since dissolved. In its place, I feel an overwhelming amount of love, connection, inner stillness and peace. As I sit down to meditate, I still wonder how a practice that is so simple can bring me such overwhelming amounts of joy. Yet, it never fails to give me the spacious inner feeling I need each day.

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Listening IN, with love

Namaste,

Alicia

Free Meditation Resources:

Sharon Salzberg 28-Day Meditation Challenge https://www.sharonsalzberg.com/28-day-meditation-challenge-2018/

30-Minute Awareness Meditation with Katie Dutcher, Monterey Bay Meditation Studio  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tbOzZ5awZ4Q

Palouse Mindfulness: Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Online course  https://palousemindfulness.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shaping Our Dream: Opting for a Fulltime RV Lifestyle

Thank you to my friend Jacqui for suggesting a blog post about the decision to RV, the logistics, thoughts, blockages, our plan, etc. Here goes:

I cannot seem to pinpoint the ‘exact’ moment we decided to transition to an RV full time. It’s more like it’s been our long-lasting love affair with the outdoors, leading us to try and figure out how to live more closely connected with nature.

In 2013-15, we lived in Boise, Idaho. At the time, we made a point of getting out into the mountains nearly every weekend. We had a Subaru Outback with a mattress in the back. I loved the freedom and ease to sleep anywhere! The weekends always turned into epic adventures.

However, as each weekend expired, I felt reluctant to return to Boise, back to the ‘big city’ (haha—such different interpretations of ‘city’!). Instead, I wanted to somehow make it work for us to live out there, surrounded by the mountains and intimately immersed in nature. But at the time, neither Grant nor I could envision what we would do for work—or how we would make that lifestyle work for us—so we continued our weekly trek: city-mountains; mountains-city.

We left Idaho in 2015; I had accepted a teaching fellowship in Indonesia and Grant had accepted a new job in law enforcement and would be training in Georgia. Completing his training, Grant moved to and began working in Seattle, Washington. After my teaching fellowship ended, I joined him in Seattle.

Our initial plan had been to live in Seattle for 3-5 years. This would have been our version of “settling down” since we had moved 15 times over the previous decade. However, life isn’t such a stickler for plans and so you roll with it as best you can.

Grant enjoyed his new job, but thrived on being busy and proactive. When he was placed in a more reactive group, he started to feel antsy, lacking meaningful work and began questioning the longevity of his career track. This led to a polarizing decision between a career that he had enjoyed and committed himself to, or our love for the outdoors. Grant is not someone who you can pay to sit around idly, and I am not willing to sacrifice his—or our—overall happiness and wellbeing for the sake of a paycheck. So, we needed a change; it’s turned into a fairly drastic one!

Combining his love for the outdoors with protection, Grant applied to a National Parks Law Enforcement Academy. At the same time, we started looking into purchasing an RV.

Open your heart to new adventures.png“Open Your Heart to New Adventures”: Brand new RV owners

Grant quit his job in November and started his new academy training this January. In March, Grant was offered a job as a seasonal Park Ranger at Glacier National Park, Montana, which we happily accepted. We’ve lived in Montana before, but this area is a first for us.

On April 26th, Grant and I finished packing up our belongings, deposited our cat Clyde in our new truck, and began our caravan drive out to Glacier.

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We arrived in West Glacier last Saturday morning. The closer we got to the mountains, the more excited I felt. A part of me felt like we would only be out here for a few days, only to return home, back to the city. But nope, we are in it for the long haul—and no, we do not know how long our ‘long haul’ is. We also don’t know where we will go in October, at the end of the park season.

So now that we know what Grant’s up to, what about me? Well, I am still figuring that out. I’ve been applying for jobs here. I will continue my writing and creating. Maybe I will get an opportunity to teach, I don’t know yet. Long term, I would also like to work for the National Parks, becoming an Interpretative Park Ranger or teach some form of outdoor education, yoga, nature therapy combo (how fun would it be to share my love and enthusiasm for the outdoors with others?!). Mostly, I am seeing what turns up for me along the way and following the path of my greatest joy.

IMG_2476.JPGFirst time writing from a campground!

Arriving in West Glacier, we moved into a park-provided campsite. We don’t currently have electricity or water hook ups, so we are using an external generator (limited use to three, two-hour windows each day) for electricity and heat. We have access to the park employee showers, laundry facility and campsite bathrooms. We will move into a site with power and water in June so until then, we get the full immersion into this RV lifestyle.

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I’ve literally pinched myself a few times since arriving here. Is this my life? Is this where I get to live for the summer? It feels breathtaking, serene, and expansive all in one breath. But then I get locked out of our RV, nibble on a frozen egg, and wait for the next generator-usage window to arrive so that I can turn on the heat in our RV. It’s an adjustment for sure, but the adventure of it enlivens me, presents me with life’s surprises and humor, and helps me to slow down enough to appreciate the truly miraculous moments of life.

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Over the years, people have asked me where I want to live and I’ve never had one clear answer. There is so much beauty and space to explore that my answer may never be one place. I suppose living in an RV allows me the flexibility to live everywhere—or wherever we can maneuver this 30’ RV!

Admittedly, we’ve had a lot to adjust to through all of these changes, but I think the stronger your desires, the more quickly you must learn to adjust the sails.

We’ve had to let go of the familiarity of what we knew, for a lifestyle that seems more compatible with who we both are. I won’t tell you that this transition process has been all sunshine and rainbows. But perhaps our most authentic path requires our greatest faith?

Wayne Dyer offers this important reminder: “You’ll see it when you believe it.” Belief comes first. Drastically changing our lifestyle has come at the cost of believing in something we cannot [yet] see.

This quietly persistent dream of ours is still taking shape, but I relax in the knowing that it is through the molding of our dreams that we will discover our greatest joys.

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Rooted Wings: I Believe I Can Fly, But I Also Want to Believe In Me

Alicia Brill

I’ve always felt a strong pull to travel and experience the world. As a child, my imagination transported me to the far off reaches of the world dreaming of what it would be like to travel to a foreign place.

I was forever traveling to exciting or exotic locations. I never imagined my travels including any of those humdrum, daily happenings of life.

Nope. I was off to bigger and better and more fanciful destinations. At least that’s how my mind imagined the world, the unknown.

At 6 years old, I cried when I first learned about the Persian Gulf War. I felt scared. My mom comforted me as she showed me a world map. Orienting us to the map, my mom pointed out where we lived (USA) and where the war was taking place (Persian Gulf). She did her best to assure me that we were “safe”, that the war was taking place far away from where we lived.

It was the first time I remember feeling impacted by world events.

This memory left a vivid imprint. My heart expanded that day. I began to care about people I didn’t know, and places I’d never been.

Along the way, my dream of merely seeing the world had morphed into my desire to be of service in this crazy beautiful world.

Following this desire has led me to some unique life experiences including: joining the US Army, a marriage proposal at 18k feet in Mexico, studying abroad in Morocco, graduate school in California, teaching English in Indonesia, completing a yoga teacher training, teaching yoga to military veterans, enrolling in Elephant Journal’s apprenticeship program, and now transitioning to living in an RV full time.

Insert pause.

I share my background with you, dear reader, so you’ll have a sense of my varied interests fueled by a relentless drive for “more”.

And here is where my story really begins.

My wings took me to far off places with many exceptional life experiences. But the truth is, I could no longer see it. What I was discovering was that you could be doing the most amazing things in the world, really following your passions and living life to the extreme, and yet still not be able to fully see or appreciate your life.

So, what was I missing?

I have always been a person who followed her passions, but there was a hidden cost: my relentless self-judgment and doubt. More devastating than feeling alone on my multipotentialite path was one of doubting my inherent sense of worthiness, value, and unique contribution in this world.

Let me give you some backstory that led me here.

In 2015-16, I accepted a teaching fellowship in Indonesia. This experience stretched the limit of my wings. Halfway through my fellowship, things were not going well for me. I wasn’t sleeping. I’d developed a chronic cough and felt completely run down. I hadn’t experienced these symptoms before and I felt scared and alone.

I had arrived at a juncture in my life where I had a choice to make. One option was to speak up, voice vulnerability, make changes, and prioritize my health and wellbeing above all else. My second option was to continue to suffer in silence, not ask for help, feel mentally defeated, or even quit my fellowship.

I chose option one.

Suddenly, my lifelong aspirations evaporated. In its place, I had to get real. And vulnerable. I had to place me first—inviting in my emotions, uncovering the stories I had been telling myself, and bringing curiosity to my thoughts and beliefs. I also needed to start appreciating the wisdom of my body.

Somehow, hidden under all of my layers of bullshit and untruths, there was this deep knowing that there had to be another way, an easier way. And so, I began inviting that easier way into my life.

That initial decision to ask for help, has led me along this continued opening and discovery of the joy to be found within and ultimately a coming home to me, in love and grace.

I began a daily meditation practice. Introducing this practice allowed me to become a compassionate observer of my thoughts and a more mindful participant in my life.

I started journaling, where writing became my friend, therapist, and mirror reflection. I wrote myself advice like: “You are going to take time out every day to appreciate you” and “You are no longer going to be so disciplined, not having fun, and relentlessly pursuing your goals where you miss out on life.” Huh. That still seems like some wicked good advice.

I’ve done a lot of brave things in my life. But by far, the bravest thing I’ve ever done is to open up to a new way of being in this world.

What I’ve learned through my inner experience of struggle, disallowance, and this seeming ‘battle’ with life was that I needed to infuse myself with the love, compassion and acceptance that I had so freely given to others.

My own story will tell you that you are of greatest benefit to this world when you honor your own story, who you uniquely are, and exactly where you’re at right now. That’s right. Right. Now.

Returning to my childhood home after Indonesia, I felt this new sense of peace steal over me. I thanked my 18-year-old self for the initial courage I had to follow my dreams. I then thanked the courage of my 31-year-old self who first turned towards her suffering with compassion and curiosity. This bird had quietly come home.

Photo credit: Sara Berglands

Facebook: Who’s Using Who?

I’m one of those people who has an interest in everything, or most everything. I find so many fascinating things to feel inspired by. Often, I find that I have a breadth of knowledge and experience about different things but I am not necessarily looking for a lot of depth on any one thing. I feel one exception to this: the yogic concept of svadhyaya (self-study).

With the advent of the Internet, specifically Facebook, I have noticed a shadow side around my use of social media.

In high school, I used AOL email and Instant Messenger. This time period was a true highlight of my Internet usage. I remember it being very simple, yet a lot of fun.

Later, I went to college in Montana and started using My Space. I don’t have any compelling memories of My Space. I guess I thought it was fun to reconnect with some people from my past, but it really didn’t take over my life.

From there, my husband and I left for a study abroad to Morocco in 2009. And here begins my relationship with Facebook. I started Facebook as a way to keep connected with people back home. I also wanted to connect with the people I had met in Morocco. My husband started a blog about our travels to Morocco and honeymoon travels after the semester. I remember feeling reluctant to start a blog; it didn’t resonate with me at the time. Instead, I chose to write about our travels in a good old-fashioned journal, which I still have.

Fast forward, when my husband and I returned to the United States, we made our way to California to attend graduate school. It was here that my relationship with the Internet changed. I was aware of how I was feeling about the Internet, but I wasn’t aware of how I had unknowingly given my power away. You see, I went to a graduate school where we had a very powerful online presence. All of our classes had online requirements. We were expected to use email, Facebook, an online course Moodle, Dropbox, and I am sure I am forgetting something else. Challenging myself to learn more about various Internet platforms, I additionally took a couple elective courses in Computer Assisted Language Learning.

I found myself in graduate school very overwhelmed by the amount of information that was being presented to me. Again, if you recall how my personality is one that finds everything to be interesting or important, then it became an impossible feat to try and keep up with it all! I know my mental health suffered as a result.

It’s fascinating to me to consider how much I can easily take in the complexity of the natural world, without feeling overwhelmed. Scratch that, I do feel overwhelmed but in a euphoric and empowered way. In contrast, when I consider the complexity, the vast amount of information and speed of the Internet, I can easily shut down with this influx of information. Van Gogh said, “If you truly love nature, you will find beauty everywhere.” Can I find the beauty in social media, in Facebook?

I realize now how the Internet, specifically Facebook, has been using me. When I say things like, “Facebook makes me feel…” or “The amount of information feels overwhelming” then I start to realize how much I have given my power away. No one, and nothing, can make me feel a certain way. How I feel is my choice, my responsibility, whether I realize it or not. I unwittingly became a complicit party to these disempowered feelings. Stepping back as I am now, I get to choose how I feel about social media, specifically about Facebook. And I, for one, want to feel empowered by my social media usage. I want to take it in stride and reach a feeling of balance. I can find the beauty in Facebook.Find Balance copyAfter graduate school, I needed to clear my head. Personally, one of my lowest moments on the self-confidence—mental wellbeing— scale was during graduate school. As a result, I chose to step away from social media. Moving first to Montana, then to Idaho, I elected to not use Facebook for 2 years. I sensed how I felt disconnected from people but I also didn’t want to reintroduce it into my life. It all felt like too much, too connected, yet a palpable feeling of disconnect.

While in Idaho, I accepted a teaching fellowship at a university in Indonesia. The position necessitated the use of Facebook as a tool, a resource, to make the fellowship sustainable. It was recommended to me that we get a second Facebook account, making one professional and keeping the other personal. That suggestion seemed too complicated to me, so I elected to use my personal account for both. I still feel like this was the right decision for me. I also began an Instagram account, which felt okay for me at the time.

During my fellowship in Indonesia, my relationship with Facebook evolved in two ways. Blessedly, I started viewing Facebook as a resource for me to use. I was able to stay connected with people I wanted to around the world. I was also able to share information and resources with the other fellows who were teaching throughout Indonesia; this was critical for our development and our spirits. I started a Facebook group to use with my students as a classroom resource for my Public Speaking and Pronunciation classes. I began seeing Facebook as a way to share what I was doing; it was diplomacy in action. I oftentimes felt that if I didn’t post something, didn’t share what I was doing, then it really hadn’t happened. Also, I used Facebook as a way to connect when I felt scared and alone. For instance, when an earthquake happened, I was able to alleviate my fears, and the fears of others, by reaching out.

The shadow side of my Facebook usage is that I began to develop a pattern of mindlessly scrolling. I would find myself scrolling and scrolling, looking for something, searching for something, when more often than not, I would close the app and simply leave feeling unsatisfied. What I was searching for wasn’t to be found. I can sense how I will get on Facebook, simply when I want to feel connected with people. I genuinely care about people. I want to know that I am not alone. I want to feel inspired. I want to get good ideas. I want to learn.

I crave genuine connections through my Facebook usage. I don’t need to be friends with 3,000 strangers. I want to be connected with people who matter to me, to people who know my heart, to people who are showing up with their own authentic presence and glory in this one precious life.

Returning to the United States, I have been feeling my way along with my Facebook and social media usage. I stopped using Instagram when I returned to the US because I haven’t yet seen its purpose in my life. This past October, I launched my first blog publicly, Soulful Shenanigans. My husband helped me to set up a Facebook page to use for my professional use as I develop my writing. I am still learning what this looks like for me. Mostly, I am feeling my way along this path that is most resonate with me as I make my way through life.

In January, I began elephant journal’s Elephant Academy Writing Apprenticeship. The apprenticeship has given me the opportunity to witness my unclear relationship with Facebook, with technology in general. I know I feel a strong pull to simply retreat to the mountains, never setting my eyes on Facebook again in my life. Deep breath. Ahh. As appealing as that sounds, I also realize I am being called in a direction that asks for me to show up authentically, sharing from my heart. I love to write, to teach, and I am just beginning to see how Facebook can be used as a tool to allow me to pursue these passions from anywhere.

One of the most liberating aspects I have learned about Facebook since starting my apprenticeship has been the ability to schedule posts ahead of time. I believe my friend Kelly tried to tell me about this feature back in October, but I hadn’t yet been ready to learn about it. Thanks Kelly! It feels freeing to be able to post ahead of time, and then step away to my greatest passion and joy, being in the mountains, in healing nature.

Ultimately, my apprenticeship is helping to clear up this shadow side around my use of social media. It’s helping me to feel more empowered in my relationship with technology. The funny thing is that I get to choose what I’m doing each day and I how I feel about that choice. Simple. I don’t have to mindlessly scroll, I can mindfully scroll, or not scroll at all: it’s my choice. We just learned about the concept of Slow Social Media. Basically, it’s this ability to slow down, monotask, and be authentic with our social media presence. I feel I’m not alone in saying that there is a great need for this more mindful, authentic, balanced, and empowered relationship with our social media usage.

To use or be used, that is my question.

LOVE the body you’re in.

For as long as I can remember, I have been telling myself this story. No one fully knows this story, not even me. I am realizing that there are many layers of misguided beliefs behind this story. Most importantly, I realize how this story no longer resonates with me; it no longer rings true. With this realization, it dawns on me that I need to create a new story. I feel myself powerfully being guided towards my new story. I am celebrating how my old story is just that, as I allow for the new.

The story I’d like to share is about my relationship with my physical body. I am now seeking the courage to tell you my story. Ajahn Chah is quoted as saying, “If you let go a little, you will have a little peace. If you let go a lot, you will have a lot of peace.” I’d like a lot of peace, which gives me the courage to share.

For these past 30-some years I have been telling myself this story. I am not certain where this story got started. It’s a story that has never felt good. I have criticized my body in every way imaginable. I have rejected my body for the way that it looks. I have rejected my body for the way that it doesn’t look, and even for the way that it will never look. I have been susceptible to other peoples’ hurtful comments about my body. I have held on to these criticisms, these nicks to the heart, for far too long. I have given other people too much power over my experience of life by believing in these negative comments. All of this endless chatter has helped me to realize that I wouldn’t be susceptible to other peoples’ criticisms if a part of me didn’t also hold these same hurtful beliefs.

Everyone has an inner critic. For much of my life, my inner critic has been the most loud, relentless, and berating when it came to my physical appearance, my physical body. I have been toying with the idea of writing about my body, sensing that I would one day need to write about it. I didn’t really feel I would be brave enough to write about this topic so soon. I honestly wanted to turn to a safer, less vulnerable topic. However, I realize that I am now standing in a place that needs to acknowledge this toxic relationship with my body in order to heal. I also need to tell my new story.

body image

One refrain I started telling myself several years ago as I began this healing process was how no one has been more critical of me than me. I don’t know why I feel better knowing this, but I do. I guess there is some sense of relief knowing that I am responsible for how I feel. I’m not saying that my own criticism feels good, but it puts it into perspective how I have needed to heal this relationship with me, this false inner critic, in order to heal and allow for my true radiance.

Looking back, I have always wanted to change my physical appearance in some way. At various times in my life, I’ve wanted to be: taller, shorter, skinnier, smaller, curvier, darker hair, straighter hair, less acne, a different shaped face, a different ethnicity, a different shaped body, and so on. I’ve wanted to be a boy. I’ve wanted to be anything but what I was created to be. Before now, it was never easy for me to just accept what I looked like, without criticism. I’ve wanted to achieve some idealized standard of beauty, but this ideal was always shifting and was never going to be me.

But here’s the difference between my old story and my new one: I have been willing to see my relationship with my body differently. I am reaching for this new story. Over these past several years, I have been sifting through the layers of limiting beliefs that I had unconsciously picked up along the way. I have now arrived at a juncture in my life where I can honestly say that my new story feels like one of unconditional love, acceptance, and appreciation for my physical body. As I learn to stand more resolutely in this unconditional love and acceptance, I realize how much more powerful I feel. How loved and worthy I feel. What matters to me the most is the relationship I have with myself. These untruths were holding me back. In my experience, they block a lot of energy, are demoralizing, and weigh you down on every level of your being.

Up to this point, I have spent so much time and energy caring about other peoples’ opinions and perceptions of my body. So, too, have I spent much energy wishing I looked more like this person or that person. I am now experiencing some pain in my physical body, which is providing me with a lot of clarity. What I want seems really simple: I just want to feel good. There is nothing more important to me than that I feel good. I want to feel unconditional love and acceptance for my body. I am committed to this loving practice from this moment onward, to the best of my ability. Writing about my body judgment is done with the intention of releasing all resistance—risking it all—to allow for my true wellbeing. THIS IS MY POWERFUL NEW STORY.

P.S. I am 110% certain that my cat, Clyde has never once wanted to look like any other cool cat. He’s a good teacher like that.

Clyde

Self-Care: Take One

Writing about self-care is proving to be quite illusive. I feel this way because introducing a self-care practice, or prioritizing my health and wellbeing, has made all the difference in the world to me. Words simply fall short here. Ultimately, my intention is to speak from the heart and share with you my belief that self-care is the greatest influence we have in this world.

I’ll pause here to say that self-care isn’t simply a new age buzzword (like mindfulness); nor does it need to be overly complicated; and it isn’t simply another “to do” list on the never-ending agenda of life. One of my yoga students, a healthcare employee, told me she felt like she had to quit her job so she could do yoga, or take care of herself, daily. I know that feeling all too well; this desire to take better care of yourself, yet somehow feeling limited. In response to this belief in limitation, I will end this blog post with some practical self-care ideas from my own practice that are easy to incorporate as a part of your daily routine.

As kids, we were often taught the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as they would do unto you.” As an adult, it remains a valuable lesson but I don’t think it goes quite far enough in its teaching. You see, what I feel is missing from this rule is explicit consideration for how we treat ourselves. From a young age, I learned how important it was to treat others with kindness and respect. However, along the way, I forgot to treat myself with a similar high regard. Each of us has an active inner life, but what is the quality of that relationship? Our relationship to self is private in nature so only you will know the answer. Does your inner voice make you feel good or bad about yourself? Is your inner voice uplifting, critical, or a little of both? Allow for the answers to come to you, be honest with yourself, and show yourself some compassion in your response.

Sometimes I feel like I didn’t ask for this new path I am on. But the reality is, I was asking for greater ease in my life. I was asking for a more compassionate relationship with myself. I was asking for genuine self-confidence. Ultimately, I was asking for unconditional self-love and acceptance. I still hold these same desires for my life.

Since childhood, I’ve felt this strong desire to “help” people and be of service in the world. I don’t know exactly where this strong calling came from, but it’s been there for me and I have been following this impulse the best way I knew how. Ultimately, this desire to be of service in the world led me to teach English in Indonesia in 2015-16.

During the first few months of teaching in Indonesia, my health started to deteriorate. I wasn’t sleeping well. There were bed bugs and I had developed a chronic cough/cold that kept me up at night. This condition persisted off and on for around 2 months. I didn’t know what to do, as I had never experienced these symptoms before. I felt scared, alone, and vulnerable. In this moment, I knew something had to shift. I knew that my life was unsustainable the way that things were going.

Looking back, I sense that my decline in health could be called a spiritual flat tire. I felt hopeless, utterly depleted. Taking action to change my situation, I decided to attend a yoga and meditation retreat over the New Year leading into 2016. It was during this week, and specifically during 32 hours of silence leading into the New Year, that something shifted for me that needed to take place. This shift was subtle, yet profound. I discovered this voice within me that simply needed to be acknowledged, to feel any sort of relief. I also needed to open myself up to receiving forgiveness, compassion, and love. I had this desire to be of service in the world, treating others with kindness and compassion, yet I had overlooked myself—both the quality of my inner relationship to self but also this openness to receiving the good in my life. I had to heal this shadow side around being open to receiving—even deserving—good in my life. Ultimately, I needed to take greater responsibility for my life and my choices.

I’ll stop here and say that it doesn’t take being at a yoga retreat in Indonesia, meditating in a cave, or having the most ideal conditions in the world for transformation to be possible. Instead, I think the greatest influence around change is having a strong desire, or belief, in something beyond which you can currently see. I love the word possible.

At the end of my teaching fellowship in Indonesia, I encountered the quote by the Sufi poet Rumi: “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” I also used the word change to describe this transformation, but here is where I feel I am limited by language. It’s less about changing anything as much as it’s about remembering the Truth of who we really are: so loved, precious, valuable, and worthy. We are truly miraculous!

After returning to the US from Indonesia, I took a course in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). It was through this MBSR course that I first learned about the concept of compassion fatigue. Later in my yoga teacher training, I learned about the idea of secondary trauma. I now see how those of us who find ourselves in service or giving-oriented roles (parents come to mind, healthcare workers, religious leaders, volunteers, social advocates, teachers, and others) can start to weigh on us if we don’t make time for ourselves, a daily renewal.

I am currently teaching ESL to hospitality workers. I have one student who’s originally from Sudan. I introduced to her the idea of self-care. She took a lot of value from the quote, “You can’t pour from an empty cup. Take care of yourself first.” Maybe some of us need to be told this explicitly? Maybe some of us need to work through our own layers of worthiness and deservability around being prioritized? I know for me, I needed to work through the limiting belief that self-care was somehow selfish. If no one has told you this before, then I will: you deserve to be prioritized. You are so valuable and worthy. We can’t BE THE LIGHT, showing up in the world in the way that we desire, if we don’t nourish ourselves first.

One of my favorite ways of thinking about self-care is through Parker Palmer’s quote, “Self-care is never a selfish act – it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer to others.” The definition of stewardship is the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care. I typically associate good stewardship with treatment of the land. However, I like seeing this parallel high regard for each one of us. We need and deserve to treat ourselves carefully and responsibly. It may sound strange, but we have been entrusted to our own care in this lifetime. We are a precious resource and the more we nourish and support ourselves, the more capacity we have to spill that abundance out into the world.

Stewardship

I still have this strong desire to be of service in the world, to be an uplifter. Yet, I realize I cannot show up in the world in the way that I want—in light, positivity and Hope—if I don’t nourish my flame each day. I feel I can now be a genuine beacon of hope, of light, in this world thanks to my commitment to my daily self-care. It’s a process of remembering to honor ourselves, wherever we’re at right now.

10 Practical Self-Care Ideas

  • Wake up in gratitude – start thinking about things you are grateful for. Really milk the feeling. Stick with things that are easy to love and find pleasure in.
  • Set an intention for the day. Write down that intention and keep it in sight all day.
  • Repurpose stoplights—red light yoga anyone? I use stoplights as an opportunity to focus on the breath or stretch what I can.
  • Midday recharge: nap, close your eyes for 1 minute and breathe, take a short walk, listen to an uplifting podcast, meditate, follow the breath for 3 cycles, stretch.
  • Own a stuffed animal, no matter your age. I bought myself a carebear this year. It has helped redirect my love back to me. I bring it in the car with me sometimes and sleep with it at night. I can squeeze it as long or as often as I want to and I’m certain it’s keeping me forever young at heart!
  • Solo dance parties. One of my favorite things to do is blast music and just move my body in ways that feel interesting and good. I do the same thing in my yoga practice, just in a different way.
  • Introduce more time to just BE. Can you mindfully drink a cup of tea? Can you stop to notice the clouds? Can you witness something beautiful in nature, simply appreciating it? Can you pause to observe the breath? Can you close your eyes and pause in meditation? Can you introduce a digital detox (1 hour, after 6pm, 1 day, etc.)? Set yourself up for success here: what’s an achievable goal for you right now?
  • When feeling triggered, ask yourself: “What do I need right now?” Or even just say, “It’s okay. I’m ready to see this differently.” And remember, “We’re all doing the best that we can, including me.”
  • Incorporate positive affirmations/self-talk: I rock! I am so awesome. I love me. I am amazing. I am a miracle. I am so fun to be around. It’s okay to be new at something. I am learning. I am growing. I am open to change. I am smart. I am beautiful. Today is a great day. Find your own affirmations that resonate the most with you.
  • And perhaps my greatest self-care practice, and teacher, is my cat Clyde. It’s so easy for me to love and say nice things to him. So now I have started reciprocating his praises for me. For example, Clyde: You are so amazing! Alicia: I am so amazing! Clyde: You are so handsome. Alicia: I am so handsome (or beautiful). You get the idea.

Wishing you a fun, renewing self-care practice!

Book Recommendation:  The Art of Extreme Self-Care: Transform Your Life One Month at a Time by Cheryl Richardson

Research on Self-Compassion: Dr. Kristen Neff  http://self-compassion.org/

Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course – online + free!  https://palousemindfulness.com/index.html

Peaceful Warrior

In 2014, there was an article published on LinkedIn titled Don’t Just Thank Me for My Service…Ask Me About It by Jake Wood. I’m imaging how you’ve asked me about my service, so I am offering up my story here.

I have been reflecting back on my life up to this point and one area that calls to me is to share more about my perspective as a military veteran. I dedicate this post to all of those who have served in the military or who are currently serving. I have the utmost respect for what you do and most importantly, who you are.

I joined the US Army Reserves at 18 years old, during my senior year of high school. One of the greatest catalysts to inspire my enlistment was the events that transpired on 9/11. That, coupled with my own personal motivations, inspired me to enlist.

I served in the US Army Reserves, the Montana Army National Guard, and finished out my military service as an ROTC cadet. My intention was to enlist as a solider and then switch over to becoming an officer. I felt that I could be a more effective leader if I understood how it felt to be an enlisted solider first, before I was an officer. Life had other plans for me. During a morning physical training session as an ROTC cadet in college, I developed a herniated disc in my lower back. Inevitably, my herniated disc led to an honorable discharge from the Army in 2007.

It’s been 10 years since I’ve been in the military, yet it becomes clear to me each year how much this period of my life has transformed me. In yoga, there is a concept called samskara. Samskaras are the impressions or imprints that your past experiences have left on you. These past experiences can affect you in body, mind, and spirit. I found it extremely beneficial to learn about samskaras. By labeling our past in this way, I felt a sense of relief. Acknowledging these impressionable moments in our lives allows them to be a part of our story, too.

However, I’d caution myself (and others) the danger in making just one of your stories your only story. Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie powerfully states, “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” Whether I were to see myself singularly as a military veteran, or others to singularly have one impression in their minds about the military, we need to allow for people to show their own resilience and create their own stories.

In my yoga teacher training, I mentioned to our Anatomy teacher that I had had a herniated disc in my lower back. She asked me which disc, to which I couldn’t answer her. You see, when I got out of the Army there was such contraction around this herniated disc. I was both identifying with the pain I was experiencing at the time yet wanting to run from it as well. I had shoved all of that medical paperwork into some file, hiding it from view and pushing it out of my mind. I wasn’t ready to accept this part of me, let alone face it.

Through my yogic studies, my meditation practice, and this new relationship I am cultivating with myself, I now have a greater sense of compassion for my response. It’s a perfectly human reaction to turn away from our suffering. It’s an act of self-preservation, a need to protect one’s self. And you need to honor that feeling. No one can determine the right time for you to turn towards your suffering, your pain, with the intention to heal and fully integrate all of you into the light. My yoga practice has helped me to see this more clearly. It’s helped allow more of me to be here, more of the time. The definition of yoga is union, to yoke, balance, and to harmonize. I think of yoga as allowing for both our shadow and our light.

When I started my 200-hour yoga teacher training last fall, I knew I was interested in teaching yoga to military veterans. I attended a teacher training with Veterans Yoga Project. Over the one short weekend we shared together, I immediately felt safer and more at “home” in the veteran yoga training than in my 200-hour teacher training. In my 200-hour training, we didn’t immediately have that shared connection and interest in the military. I was the only military veteran in our yoga training and even though the studio had offered a discount for military veterans, I still didn’t feel fully safe to allow all of me to show up. And there are reasons for this.

Some of my experiences in the military and as a veteran have left me feeling uncomfortable or unsafe to speak up in every environment I’m in. I am sharing three examples that stand out to me the most right now:

  • When I was in college in Montana, a professor had openly and often attacked our military presence abroad. She would never learn that I had been deployed to where she had spoke against so vehemently. She had unwittingly created an environment that felt unsafe to be all of me. I dreaded that class and those lectures. Not all parts of me seemed welcome there.
  • When I returned to the US from Indonesia, I went to see a naturopath in Seattle about some health concerns that had flared up while abroad. It was my first meeting with this doctor, so we were discussing my health history. Eventually, it came out that I had been deployed overseas. Her response—trying to determine if I had PTSD—was to ask me if I’d ever done any water boarding there. I felt shocked by this question! To me, this interaction emphasizes the importance of skillfully bridging the gap between you and what will always be unknown to you. It also reminds me how powerful our words are and to bring kinder and more conscious awareness to what we say.
  • I was recently at the VA getting an x-ray done on my knee. The x-ray technician asked me what branch of service I had been in: Army. And what my job was: Intelligence Analyst. His next question of me was, “Are there intelligent people working in the military?” It was a serious question. And I’ve heard it often enough before. My reaction was to say, “I should hope so!” Otherwise, his question closed me off to any further interaction with him.

When enough of these interactions pile on, my response has been to close down and to silence that part of my life. I share these examples with you not for your sympathy, but rather to exemplify how powerful we impact one another through our words. It’s especially true in positions of power, which I believe teachers and healthcare providers are in.

There is a camaraderie and culture borne out of military service, where if you haven’t served, it will always be unknown to you.

When the Black Lives Matter protests were happening around Seattle, my dad and I had a conversation about his time serving in the Navy back in the 1960s. He talked about being on liberty, away from the ship, and docked down in Mobile, Alabama. Four of them, all guys, walked into a bar and ordered a drink. The bartender asked one of the sailors to leave; he was African American. My dad said that all 4 of them walked out.

To me, my dad’s story is one of the best examples highlighting my personal experience in the military and what my military service means to me now. It doesn’t matter that this story is his story and not my own. What’s important is the value of standing in solidarity with those to your left and to your right, without question. This sense of duty, or responsibility, to those around you remains a powerful lesson I learned from my own military service. One of my yoga veteran students said to me in understanding, “Well yeah, we’re family.” She understood.

The military causes you to expand in a way that you can never go back from. You see the world in a different way. You see yourself in a different way. I am fortunate that my yoga practice is giving me the tools that can help integrate the whole of me into the folds of my life. Yoga has given me the gift of self-compassion and honoring yourself exactly where you’re at. One of my favorite yoga poses, for the name alone, is Peaceful Warrior. This pose allows me to be the paradox of both military veteran and yoga teacher.

An untold story.

Joy Begins Within

On September 8, 2015, I departed for my 10-month teaching fellowship in Indonesia. On that first plane ride from Seattle bound for Tokyo, I wrote in my journal things like:

~”Enjoy life.”

~“Listen and be open to change and new possibilities.”

~“I’d like to find a more transcendent frame of mind.”

~“Each emotion can pass us by or be attached to; don’t attach.”

~“Surround myself with positive thoughts, people, and influences.”

As I was writing this journal entry, I knew there were some things missing in my life. I knew there was a better, more easeful way to approach life. I just didn’t know what that was. It’s clear to me now how much the Universe was listening to me as I wrote out my desires and how it’s responded fully to what I was asking for.

The months leading up to my departure were admittedly hectic. Two weeks prior to this journal entry above, I was reaching my limit on what I felt I could handle. In these moments, when we really feel that something isn’t working for us, it becomes a powerful moment to turn our attention towards what it is we do want to invite into our lives. But it is a practice.

In my journal entry from August 25, 2015, I was inviting more ease into my life, more joy; I just didn’t know it yet:

“Pre-departure crazies. I haven’t left for Indonesia yet and I feel like I’m a mess. I feel so unsettled, stressed, and just plain unhappy. I feel a distrust towards people, technology, lacking enthusiasm and joy, and just feeling on an upward battle with life. I miss my husband. I wonder what I’m doing with my life. I wonder what I want to be doing with my life and what I’ve done to this point. For self-preservation, I’ve distanced myself from technology and a lot of social connectivity. I’m lacking a basic desire to connect with people on a human level and to help others. Where is my passion? Where is my compassion? I have been so hyper focused on me and have also lost sight of myself. I’m not happy in my current mental state. And this follows me no matter where I go. Where is the joy in life and my positive attitude? I keep trying to check out of life in many ways. I desire focus, calm, and peace. Find and discover the beauty each new day. Each day is a gift; not a guarantee or a right. Rediscover my bliss, purpose, and self-confidence. Name one positive things about life to focus on: I have a loving family.”

I can appreciate this entry now because it gives me a clearer understanding of what was going on for me. I was willing to admit the things that weren’t working in their present state: something had to give. I was willing to start to ask the questions of what I wanted and shift my attention towards what I did want to attract into my life. I recognized how this unhappiness was following me no matter where I found myself in the world. It took (and takes) courage to admit that. I sometimes think acknowledging something we feel ashamed of—something we don’t want to admit is lurking under the surface—is the hardest step. Even if you are only acknowledging it to yourself, it makes you vulnerable and I applaud your courage to go there!

My experience in Indonesia allowed me to realize this distinction between Joy and happiness. Joy arrived in my life in a myriad of ways. My most basic understanding of Joy is feeling at peace with who you are. Joy is an allowance for the good in your life. My capacity for Joy increased as I developed a kinder, more compassionate relationship with myself. I spent a lot of time alone in Indonesia. However, I came to realize the difference between being “alone” vs. being “lonely.” I discovered the Joy in silence, in spending time with me. Joy arrived in my life through increased vulnerability. It arrived in my life through asking for help, feeling supported, and allowing the good to come into my life. I found myself trusting that things were going to work out. I found myself letting go and surrendering control. I started looking for the good in others and myself. I was profoundly moved by the life’s work of Louise Hay, a spiritual teacher who introduced me to the idea of unconditional self-love and positive affirmations. I became completely enthralled by clouds, which to me symbolizes this appreciation for what I had previously overlooked. I began a daily meditation practice, which has helped provide me with the focus, clarity, and grounded presence I was looking for. I realized my dream of attending a yoga retreat, no longer putting it off for another tomorrow. At the retreat, I welcomed in deeper levels of healing, love, and support that I still feel to this day.

Passing through Bali on my way back from my yoga and meditation retreat, I bought Osho’s book: Joy: The Happiness that Comes From Within. In Jakarta, I got a tattoo with the message: Joy begins within. This has been my greatest life lesson.

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