Pushing Beauty

IMG_0865Summertime, especially on and around July 4th, apparently brings about the deep desire for Angelinos (at least in Silverlake) to set off fireworks, fire crackers—basically anything that goes boom. My 90 lb pup isn’t very fond of this and neither am I. One time last year he was so frightened he jumped onto our recycling bin, forced his way through the window screen, and leapt to the cement ground two stories beneath him; thankfully he survived unscathed.

On nights like these I sit in bed reading, occasionally hearing a loud whistle that leads to a massive boom. Kona’s ears perk up. He looks around alarmed. There’s really nowhere to hide in my apartment so he attempts to crouch in the corner of my doorway, tail deep between his legs. I call to him to come to me and he looks at the balcony door, back at me, to the balcony door, back at me, and finally makes a run for it. On these nights I imagine what it’s like to be Kona, thinking there’s a war going on outside, scared for his life.

I was born into this body, into my wonderfully loving family, into a country with many privileges. I’m not sure how or why, but it’s probable it was by chance, that I didn’t earn it in another lifetime. Maybe I did, but as far as I know I could just as easily have been born into a Palestinian home in Gaza. Instead of fireworks setting off car alarms, bombs would be tearing apart my city and killing my loved ones.

We live in a world where judgement and criticism is the go to. Compassion and love is something we save for those inducted into our circles and even then we can easily lack it. We restrict our love in moments it’s needed most. We may believe we can’t feel love for people we don’t know, but love isn’t actually personal; it’s foundational. It’s the essence of who we all are, and to see other human beings suffer calls for our love.

It’s easy to feel helpless in these times, and it can be even easier to ignore the news, to say it’s too depressing, to feel removed because it’s happening to a culture you maybe can’t seem to relate to. I think we need to develop the strength to face the truths of our times with courage, humility, and without judgement. In doing so we’re able to see “they” are no different from “us.” All human beings are capable of all things human beings do. And what we can do from this vantage point is something. For some people that something means talking about solutions and policy development, for some it’s going to the military, for others it’s praying, and for all of us it can be giving love. Do what you can, but whatever you do don’t hide.

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I go shopping at the Farmers Market most Sunday mornings. My favorite is the one in Hollywood; it’s huge and full of vegetable lovers. A few months ago I was walking back to my car and heard:

THUD, THUD, THUD, THUD, THUD.

I was being chased. Well, sort of. This man is fast approaching and reaching out to me with his left arm. His fingernails are painted black and chipping away.

Now I have to back up to give you some context about myself. When I was a kid I mostly loved school. It was about learning, and I loved learning. But then at some point it was about being popular, and I wasn’t so good at that. Girls were mean. I was a mean girl once, too. But, to the point, I became really introverted around people I didn’t know well at a kinda young age. Maybe I thought people didn’t like my personality or something. I’m not sure. Either way, somewhere along the way I must’ve decided to hide it.

In order to hide myself I put on a tough shell. One time, my freshman year of college, I was walking past a bunch of dudes sitting on a stoop on Broad Street in Philly. They looked at me and one of them said, “Mmmmmmm. She looks like she mad at her boyfriend.” Inside I was cracking up. That’s the funniest thing I’d heard all week, but outside I still looked like I was mad at my boyfriend. And I probably was. I was mad a lot. I was critical of the world.

Through the years I cracked the shell off. I let people see me. I stopped being afraid. I’m sure there’s some residual dust lingering around. Old habits die hard. Another thing that happened while living in the city for eight years is that men would holla atcha. Anytime you walked down the street. And then a few homeless people stalked me and screamed at me when I didn’t give them money. Those are two stories for other days. The point here is that over the years I created a wall up around people who tried to approach me on the street.

So, here we are. THUD, THUD, THUD, THUD, THUD.

“I’m…sorry,” he says winded, “but I saw you from across the street and had to find out your name.” In my mind I roll my eyes, note the objectification, and think that he must be really outta shape because that one block has him wiped.

He looks like he’s in his late thirties, dark brown hair, light skin, and baggy clothes. Hmmm. It’s 95 degrees out and he’s wearing a heavy t-shirt with a long-sleeved sweatshirt underneath, denim, and chucks. I find myself starting to shut down, put him in a box, treat him like he doesn’t deserve to talk to me. I catch myself and choose to engage instead. I ask him if he’s hot. He laughs, says no, and asks me my name again.

We walk and talk. He is a bit erratic. His mind moves fast, probably faster than his lips, but those were going pretty quick too. I start to ask him questions about himself, and he reluctantly tells me that he is staying at a covenant house. He pulls the only dollar to his name out of his pocket and tells me he hates money, as-a matter of fact, it’s evil. He isn’t proud or ashamed about it. The night before had tried to talk a homeless woman out of doing drugs. He felt like he had her until a dealer approached; then she was gone.

He has a good heart. I can tell that. He is also suffering in some way. So, we get to my car and I tell him I have to leave and that it was nice to meet him. He shoves his hands deep into his pockets, hunches his shoulders, and shyly asks me on a date, eyes fluttering up and down like a 13 year old boy. He wants to buy me a coffee sometime, something I’m not sure how he’ll do with his $1. Coffee tends to start around $4.00 in Los Angeles. I tell him the truth: that I’m not emotionally available, that I had just gone through a difficult breakup, that I am trying to heal. I thank him.

He looks me in the eye. I see his face get red and his eyes well up. I start to walk away because I’m feeling kinda strange, kinda confused. I don’t really know how to deal with this sudden emotion from this stranger. I can’t process his behavior so quickly. As I get into my car he puts his fist to his chest, beats it lightly, and with a quavering voice says, “I truly wish you nothing but joy in your life.”

I drive away feeling moved by this person. I’m moved by his capacity for feeling, for his bravery in approaching a stranger, for brazenly asking me on a date without a home or money, for showing me compassion, and for expressing his true wishes for another human being.

Or maybe he was just crazy. If so, I’ll take that kind of crazy over the fearful, image driven people I walk by every day. Myself included.

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unsplash_527e864de3770_1I talk on the phone. A lot. I Skype and Facetime, too. This is what happens when you live in LA and your friends and family are dispersed throughout the country. I talk to my girlfriends for hours on end sometimes. I talk to my mom most days; my brothers, too. My Dad and I text a lot. I talked to one of my sisters today for an hour, my brother for 15, and am meeting a local friend for dinner tomorrow night. I practice yoga at a studio four days a week and practice at home a few of the others. I go on hikes on the weekend. I paint for three hours most Sundays. I meditate every morning. I run my own little business M-F. I write a blog. Two blogs. I cook meals. I take my dog on 20-30 minute walks twice a day. I read books. Right now I’m reading Vagabonding and What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. I do some other things, too, but I won’t continue to bore you with them.

The reason I’m telling you this is because we have tricked ourselves into believing we don’t have time. We can’t seem to find it. I spend my time doing things that feed my soul. I’ve created this life, and it may not be any more special than another’s but what I’ve discovered through this fullness is that I always have room for more. I always seem to have time to catch up with my best friends, to text silly emoticons with my little sister, to go to my friend’s for dinner, to be there when someone needs me, to meditate, to be creative, to have fun, and to do my job. We make space for the things that are important to us, and when we’re balanced, when our souls are at ease, we somehow have all the time we need.

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Today is my friend’s birthday. I’ve been through a lot with this person, and I love him dearly. When I’m sharing my feelings about someone on their birthday I tend to think of the essence of the person and my personal history with them. So, I took a stroll through digital memory lane, scrolling through our old text messages from over two years ago. It’s an incredible thing, to see a version of yourself and a time that no longer exists. It reminds me of how relationships are constantly in flux and that human being are amazingly resilient.

At first my friend was not my friend. He was a guy I met a few months after moving to LA—a guy I dated. At first we were both excited; we had hopes and expectations for what we could be together. And then we were both sad when those ideas didn’t pan out. We talked through a lot. We decided to try to be friends. We tried to maneuver our feelings around love without causing each other pain. We laughed a lot and sent each other witty text messages. Those moments reminded us why we were trying to figure this whole thing out. We hurt each other too, and one of us cried (a few times).

One time we stopped trying. And that could have been the end of the story. He could have been the guy who it didn’t work out with. But, we came back to each other. We shared many moments, opened up to each other, and laughed often. We knew it couldn’t last. We were really close, a way “just friends” can’t be really close. So one day we decided if we really cared about the love between us then we had to create boundaries so we’d be able to stay in each other’s lives. So, coffee and lunch became our thing for a while. And then we both fell in love—with other people. His girlfriend became a close friend of mine. And now it’s hard for me to remember how it all started, what we went through, and that we almost lost each other.

What I’ve learned is that love is all the same. It’s one thing. We like to think there is an in love and a love. But, it’s really all one love. Our expression of that love differs in relationship, time, and circumstance; it ebbs and flows and shows up in various forms. This is the nature of the expression of life. And sometimes in life things don’t turn out the way we want. But, when we go with the tide we end up somewhere more beautiful than we could have hoped for.

______________________________

Happy Birthday, Ryan. I’m lucky to have learned about myself through you. I love you, my friend, and I hope you’ll be in my life until we’re old and gray, teasing each other over iced chai, and sharing our latest aspirations.

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We spend so much of our energy on things that aren’t actually useful to us. Often times this loss isn’t obvious to us; it’s not like a gas leak in our car that we can see pouring onto the pavement. It’s usually more like a computer constantly running in the background, depleting our resources without us being fully conscious of it. We’re habituated to think and act in certain ways. Even those of us who are committed to consciousness need to constantly ask ourselves who is acting and why.

Here are a few ways many of us waste our energy and tips on how to stop:

1) Gossip/Negativity
The sad truth is that gossip is a way for us to feel better about our own lives by needing others’ lives to be worse. On top of the negative energy we’re consuming we’re also wasting countless hours focused on drama. This is common enough in our personal lives, and the media has hopped on board to provide us yet another outlet to waste our minds. We hop from article to article searching for the secret stories from popular people we don’t know and never will. Most of this gossip perpetuates the focus on negativity and triviality in our culture. We’re training our brains for negativity. We’re wasting our time and attention on subjects that bring nothing positive to our lives or our culture. There are so many important, really important things going on in this world, but we’ve chosen to care about trivial matters over the ones that really need our attention.

How to stop wasting energy here
Here’s an obvious one: stop partaking in gossip and negativity. A few years ago I decided to simply refuse to click on any link that referred to celebrities. It’s really none of my business who is sleeping with who in this world, and it doesn’t add any value to my life or the lives of anyone else. So I suggest resolving not to click on any online links that relates to gossip. Focus on the bright side. Surround yourself with people who are talking about something meaningful. Remove yourself from any gossip newsletter or forum (The Huffington Post Celebrity section included). If you have a Facebook “friend” who is constantly posting negative things simply unfollow their feed. Remember that you can choose the information you take in and put out. Turn the conversation around. Say something meaningful. Notice how you feel when you gossip. There’s a part of you in there that really doesn’t like it, that knows it feels bad. Learn to listen to that part of yourself.

2) Comparison
We are constantly comparing ourselves to others. Constantly. It’s something that’s so engrained in us it’s easy to miss. We’re incessantly measuring ourselves up to other people’s success, beauty, fashion, lifestyle, place in life, and so on. There are two expressions of comparison:

  1. We devalue ourselves. Shit. She’s doing what I want to do and she’s doing it so much better than I ever could and she’s more beautiful than me and speaks so much more eloquently than I ever will. She’s working from Thailand?! Dammit. I want to be working from Thailand. You’re kidding me. That’s her fiance? Her life is perfect. Why don’t I have a fiance yet? I wish my life was more like hers.

  2. We devalue others as a defense mechanism. What’s she’s doing isn’t that cool and when I do it I’ll be doing it so much better and she’s not really as smart as me because she’s not talking about ____ or maybe she is smarter than me but I don’t think she’s prettier than me. She has a funny nose. No, she’s definitely not prettier than me. Plus, she talks like a valley girl. Who can really take her seriously? 

What we’re doing is turning people into objects with success and beauty stats and measuring our lives up to theirs. In doing so, they become a threat to us and, in turn, we’re incapable of seeing their humanity. The amount of energy we waste here is insane and the destruction we create within ourselves and our culture is alarming. Everywhere we look there’s someone to compare ourselves to, and we unconsciously do it at every encounter. We measure ourselves up to everyone, most typically within our peer group, and we tell ourselves story after story about how we need to be something different than who we actually are.

How to stop wasting energy here
Start with paying attention to your thought patterns. Notice the ways in which you compare yourself to others without judgement. Then learn how to accept yourself for who you are as you are right now. No other person can threaten your sense of self by being themselves. In learning to love and accept ourselves for who we are we remove the falsely perceived external threat and competition. We’re then in a space to support the success and joy others attain without feeling it threatens our own. Each living creature on the planet is an expression of this amazing evolutionary process. Some of us are physically similar, some of us have similar desires, but each of us is unique just by being. Each time we try to tweak ourselves to be a little bit more like someone else we’re destroying the inherent beauty within.

3) Money
When we avoid opening mail, are late on payments, don’t know where our money is going, and have no clue how much our bills are each month we’re in trouble. These unknowns become a part of our subconscious. Avoidance is a delusion of escape. We can’t actually escape anything. We think we’re avoiding something, but what we’re actually doing is putting it on the back burner and walking away. The energy is still burning away, but nothing is cooking.

How to stop wasting energy here
Become conscious of all your finances. Create a Mint account. Create a budget. Know where your money is going and how much your bills are each month. Refuse to be a victim to currency. I recently got a parking ticket while I was getting coffee. In Los Angeles the signs can be ridiculous, and as careful as I tried to be I misread a sign and ended up buying a $70 coffee. My mind started spewing all the other ways I could have spent that money, blamed myself for being careless, wished I’d only parked on a different street. I took a deep breath and realized that it was over. The ticket was issued. There was nothing I could do about it but try to be even more careful in the future. I forgave myself for the mistake I made, drove home, walked in the door, and paid the ticket that moment. I let it go. I could have put the payment off for a week or two, left it sitting on my desk, put it on my to-do list, left the back burner on. Instead I chose to let it go by taking care of it and forgiving myself for the mistake.

4) Dieting
Dieting has become so commonplace in our culture we hardly bat an eye when a friend mentions she’s on one. Dieting is a get rich quick scheme. There is no quick and easy way to a healthy lifestyle. It’s the on again off again that depletes our energy. We put ourselves on a hamster wheel. We get excited for the next new thing, try it our with gusto for a few weeks, fall off, self deprecate for a few weeks or months, and then start the next new thing. We think things will be different this time. No, they actually won’t. Wanna know why? Because it’s not about the tactic. It’s about you and your relationship to self. Dieting is psychological. To go on a diet means we have tricked ourselves into believing that there is something we can do short term that is going to provide us long term results.

How to stop wasting energy here
Firmly decide to never “diet” again and instead choose a diet. A diet is really a habitual way of eating. Eat differently habitually, neverendingly, for good. Make your body move every single day. Find joy in it so you can create sustainable change. Take baby steps until you notice your life is totally different than it was before. And that’s a good thing, by the way. If something is off in your life you typically can’t just fix that one thing. You have to change. Dieting is the desire to continue avoiding the real cause of the problem. Realize that and a big shift will happen.

5) Being Afraid
Fear is killing us all. The energy is slowly and quietly draining away until there’s nothing left, until we’re left wondering what the hell happened to our lives. Fear is alive in our biggest moments, in the moments when we need it least. It’s there pushing us to choose what is safe, what’s comfortable, and what ends up creating suffering.

How to stop wasting energy here
Allow yourself to see the truth. Ask yourself in each moment, “Am I afraid?” If so, “What am I afraid of?” The answers are almost always irrational. I just went through a breakup where there was an immense amount of love between the two of us, but the timing was off. I asked myself what I was afraid of, and the answer was losing him. So I dug deeper. Why was I afraid of losing him? Because I was afraid I wouldn’t find that kind of love again. Seeing these truths are liberating. We can realize they are irrational. No one really wants to live in fear. Fear suffocates everyone and everything. Love is freeing and allows for the best part of ourselves to emerge. Once we choose where we want to come from and are willing to see where we are actually coming from our decisions in life become much clearer.

If you decide to stop wasting energy in these areas you will feel dramatic changes. Some may happen immediately and others will take time. But, you’re going to feel free. You’re going to feel space. You’re going to have more time. So spend it where it matters. Enjoy the moment—really be in it. Learn something new; help your brain grow. Give your love and receive it. Make something meaningful. We don’t get to choose how much time we have here, but we can choose how we spend the time we do have.

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While I was living on Maui in 2011 my brother, Matt, and I were Skyping. He had a big smirk on his face the whole call. After an hour of this I finally told him to cut the shit and tell me what the giddiness was about. “OK, but don’t tell anyone,” he said. A long dramatic pause and then laughing, “I’m a minimalist.” I love this moment because an idea changed his life. But, what changed more than selling and donating most of his things was his relationship to life. He began to look at his relationship to objects differently. His context for living was no longer based on them—the trends, the fitting in, the being good enough—but on himself.

This year my brother is on a six week tour with two guys, Josh and Ryan, who call themselves The Minimalists. They’re creating a documentary to give people insight into what minimalism is. Last week they stopped in Los Angeles giving me the opportunity to hear them speak at one of my favorite venues, The Last Bookstore, and spend some quality time with my brother. Matt and I have talked at length about how people perceive minimalism, and it’s one of the reasons he’s so passionate about creating this film. Our minds are always looking to define things. We need to know the rules and how we fit in. What does it really mean to be a minimalist? Is that what I am? Does being a minimalist mean I have to get rid of all my things? What about my books? My photos? My shoes? But…I like my shoes. The truth is that these are not the important questions. The important questions are the ones about our lives. Like, am I really happy? Do I fill my life with things because I think they make me happy? Who would I be without the clothes, home, gadgets I identify myself with?

Being a minimalist doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy things; it means that we don’t allow things to hold power over us. We can lose objects in a fire—even photographs—and it will all still be ok. We realize that it would suck to have lost those things, but we wouldn’t have really lost anything important. It wouldn’t destroy us. I think this points to the great truth of life: nothing is permanent. We have to let go of everything at some point. If not now, we’ll be forced to do so in death. I think our attachment to objects is actually a very deep desire to feel safe in this world. We’ve become a culture identified with our things, and I think partly because we‘re avoiding the truth that everything disappears at some point.

To me, minimalism isn’t about the things we have or don’t have. It’s about our relationship to things. It’s about realizing that these objects don’t actually hold value—even if the world around us tells us they do. The things that hold value are intangible. It’s in our relationships, in our love, our laughter, in our moments with each other. Josh and Ryan ask themselves one simple, yet profound, question:

Does this bring value or joy to my life? 

The key here is getting real with yourself. This isn’t about not having things. It’s about being more conscious about the things you do have. Ask yourself why you have it. Question what you put value in. At the end of our days the things that really meant something won’t have been our objects; they will have been our moments with people and our moments with ourselves. No one finds out they have a terminal illness and thinks about all of the dresses that are hanging in their closet or run out on a shopping spree. We think about the people we love and the people who love us, the beautiful sites of the world we’ve seen, the moments that made every bit of pain worth it. And I bet you anything not one of those memories has a thing to do with a thing.

Minimalism brings a lightness to life. That’s what I saw on my brother’s face over three years ago. He found some secret to all this craziness that made him joyful. I’ve never seen that expression on the face of anyone receiving an object. It’s not a feeling that can be attained by a thing. It’s a knowing of a deep truth—that the things we thought that mattered actually don’t and the things that actually matter are the “things” we’ve had all along.

 

Photo Credit: Matt D’Avella, Catalyst


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clouds“The seat of human emotion should be the liver,” Doc Homer said. “That would be an appropriate metaphor: we don’t hold love in our hearts, we hold it in our livers.”

I understood exactly. Once in ER I saw a woman who’d been stabbed everywhere, most severely in the liver. It’s an organ with the consistency of layer upon layer of wet Kleenex. Every attempt at repair just opens new holes that tear and bleed. You try to close the wound with fresh wounds, and you try and you try and you don’t give up until there’s nothing left.” —Barbara Kingsolver

I wrote this quote down after reading Animal Dreams in high school. It resonated with me then, but only now, at 30, do I feel I’ve experienced it. Every time I go through a gap in writing I’m typically going through a life transition. This time I’m going through a breakup. Or maybe I went through it. If it ends with the pain then I’m still in it.

The good news is that I became deeply depressed. I say it’s good news because I think we’re only able to feel as much pain as we’re able to feel love. I loved a man so deeply I felt really depressed when I lost him. Makes sense. I’ve been depressed before, and those times I knew I could cover it up and feel better soon. This was different. This time I sat in it. I let myself feel everything I needed to feel. And I went deep down to a place I’d never been before. I’m an eternal optimist, someone who deeply loves life, and I couldn’t care less about anything.

That wasn’t scary to me. What I realize is scary is that we can hide from love. I didn’t know I loved as deeply as I did until it was over. I was living in my head instead of my heart. This must happen to a lot of people because, you know, you never know what you got ‘till it’s gone.

Well, why the hell don’t we know? 

Because we’re cut off from our knowing, from our intuition. I’ve gone through all of the cliches—and that shit becomes cliche for a reason. We all have the same human experiences, and when you love deeply and then it’s gone everyone feels the same thing: pain.

The beauty about being human is that our states aren’t static. We’re constantly moving. If you’ve ever watched your emotions you know what I’m talking about. Even a somewhat consistent person, like myself, can have a variety of emotions throughout a single day. I would wake up depressed, brush my teeth complacent, make a smoothie feeling a hint of optimism, talk to a client and feel presently sane, go to yoga and feel rejuvenated, talk to a friend and remember how amazing life is, walk the dog and miss the shit out of my ex, bump into a friendly neighbor and laugh, and on and on it goes. Sometimes we’re happy. Sometimes we’re sad. Sometimes we’re in relationship. Sometimes we’re not. Nothing stays the same. Truly.

So through all of this pain I decided to focus on healing myself. I started doing breath work (amazing!) every week, process painting classes, zentangling, photography, yoga, writing (in secret), design, communicating with friends…everything that feels important to my soul. I’m healing. I can feel it working. I can feel the painful days spread further apart. But, then a moment or two pop up that feel really rough, and I realize my heart is in my liver. I thought healing was in a direction, that once I felt good I couldn’t go back to feeling not good. Right? No surprise that it isn’t that simple. It’s not just time. It’s not just moving forward. It’s allowing yourself to be with the things that feel bad. It’s letting it be ok that I still miss his heart a shit ton. It’s forgiving myself for all of the ways I could have been better. It’s letting everything be just as it is. It’s letting myself feel like shit sometimes.

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