30 In Review & Turning Thirty Onederful

This time last year, 3.3.14, I was in Bali, Indonesia, relaxing after having spent two intense months trekking in Nepal, and care-taking my beautiful sick newly-wed husband, in India. Sean joined me in Bali on the 1st of March, after staying on in India for two extra weeks so that we could have some intentional time apart. On my birthday, we spent an excruciatingly hot and humid day running around the narrow dirt paths that lead like a maze through the endless rice paddies, racing to catch a gorgeous sunset reflected in the watery squares of rice in its various stages of growth, we found ourselves at a dinner table surrounded by momentary friends. People I’d met during my solo two weeks in a little town known for its artistic, and healing elements, called Ubud:

– an Argentinian who wrote for the Economist I met while eating a crepe
– a lovely woman, painter and contact dancer named Ethel, from Estonia, who hosted me for my first week
– Kate – a motivational coach and fabulous redhead from the States whom I met while in downward dog at the Yoga Barn
– Rain – a friend we’d met in Portland and bumped into while in Ubud
– John, in his late 70s, a retired actor, director, friend and colleague of OSHO and now avid (daily) painter from Britain whom I was getting to know over our morning breakfasts together at my guesthouse
– Squishelle and her partner, two beautifully eccentric Burners who helped save our relationship in a state of turbulence by the light of fireflies on a dark night amongst the rice paddies.

Click here to see a photo of this crew.

I was missing home, my center, my sense of place and community that day, and though I was without my familiar friends and comforts of home, it was actually a surprisingly delightful gathering of eclectic and international beings that helped make my 30th birthday unique and special. The dinner conversation, though sometimes awkward, was enjoyable, especially for me who took delight in asking strange and penetrating questions like, ‘what is the purpose/importance of vulnerability’ and ‘what do we do with our inherent privilege’ and one favorite that I learned from Sean, “what’s it like to be you right now?”

After Bali we flew home to Portland and dove immediately into a time of great questioning. Our relationship had been through some mighty challenges since shortly after our wedding on October 6th, 2014 and one wound in particular needed to be made more raw before we could move forward. Sometimes things have to get messier before they can become more clear and clean. I will purposefully leave this one vague, as most of you who know me remember, and those who don’t, well, let’s just say my core fear of abandonment was being powerfully triggered/re-stimulated. So while adjusting to return-home-culture-shock (it’s been said this is more intense than the culture shock of being in foreign places), we were also treading unstable ground in our relationship. Our connection was tenuous, and our marriage looked like it might not survive.

Some things broke. Some things shifted. Some things ended or at least took at hiatus. We chose to stay together at least until fishing and sought the support of a long-time-married couple who supported us as Mindful Relationship Consultants. Over six sessions in April and May with them we managed to piece together enough of the broken pieces and attend to the Garden of Us. Literally and figuratively. Slowly but surely, we found our way back to one another, renewed our commitment and our garden began to show signs of life again. They helped us get to a place where we could at least see ourselves fishing together, which at the time felt monumental.

In May, Sean took a 5 week-long storytelling workshop with the Portland Story Theater, and performed the potent piece on stage in May which you can watch here: Escape from Bliss

Since we had previously always fished on different boats, we knew that we wouldn’t be getting our built-in (and actually quite useful/balanced healthy) apart-from-each-other time, so we decided to head out simultaneously on 2-week-long solo adventures. Sean used his thumb and a couple of trains to explore Wyoming and Colorado while following the continuation of the above mentioned story, while I attended an art and music festival, called Enchanted Forest, held on the Yuba River near Tahoe, California, where I rediscovered my sense of independence, personal fulfillment, and individual identity, made new friends that changed my life in delicious ways and danced danced danced like only god was watching. It was just what the doctor ordered before heading up to Alaska for season #14.

Fishing together for the 1st time proved both beautiful and challenging. Sean truly blew my mind with his extraordinary work ethic, running circles around me getting things done, taking care of the engine, picking fish out of the net with lightning-fast hands, and for the vast majority of the time, supporting me in my evolving endeavor to be the Skipper. We ‘shelved’ our relationship turbulence for two months while fishing. Sometimes tempers flew and unkind words were voiced, but overall I actually felt grateful to be sharing my fishing experience with my beloved and we shared many magical moments in and amongst the stressful times.

Upon our return from a successful fishing season, in August, we volunteered at our 3rd Beloved, another music, art and community festival in Tidewater, three hours SW from Portland. Here we discovered new music, collected a few more fantastic people to add to our growing circle of extraordinary friends and deepened our established connections to each other, and to our selves.

Caravansary was Burning Man #4 for me, #3 for Sean and believe it or not, #1 for MY MUM!
My Mama joined us after driving 16 hours south from her gorgeous gallery in Southern, Alberta, and after a couple intensive days of prep, we hooked our pop-up Joyco tent trailer to her Nissan X-Terra and had by far, the smoothest trip and entrance onto the Playa. We danced wildly, rode our bikes beyond bliss, shared meals and art-exploration-adventures, spent lots of time in the temple and nurtured our bond in ways I previously thought unlikely to ever happen. A dream come true. My favorite Burn so far, especially after the near-disaster the year before. Glad we leapt back onto the horse. A spectacular ride indeed.

In October, I began a year long non-traditional counseling program in San Francisco that I am currently half way through and has been living up to it’s motto of “Change yourself, change the world”. Truly a significant and life-changing program in which I am so grateful to participate. The methods, skills and tools for consciousness and personal growth that I am learning directly apply to my life as well as to my work in the world.

Also in October, I took the same 5-week long storytelling workshop with Portland Story Theater that Sean had attended six months earlier, in May, and you can watch the video of me performing my story on stage at the Alberta Abbey,  ‘Fishing for a Living’, HERE.

The late Autumn months proved to have some significantly dark struggles, yet also brought some powerful clarity and inner knowing. For Winter Solstice, I consciously chose to head toward the light, mirroring the lengthening days. I’ve been more happy, content, motivated, inspired and connected to my purpose, my passions, my people, and my beloved than I can remember in a LONG time.

I thoroughly enjoyed re-wiring our brains as to what the holiday season could be, and Sean and I had our first ‘real’ Christmas at home, just the two of us. We had a trimmed-Spruce-branch as our Charlie Brown Christmas tree and shared meaningful moments and thoughtful gifts. For New Years 2015, we attended our 2nd Inspire Truth event that takes place in the Portland Art Museum, we made more friends, danced for hours, helped bring in the Magical Midnight Moment and started the year off in a state of genuine delight and communion with loved ones.

January and February have already flown by and that is in part, due to how much I’ve been enjoying them. I am deep in my Interchange Counseling program, as well as an 11-week Compassionate Communication course and am currently enrolled in a year-long Business Coaching course that is giving me the practical skills and helping light the fire in my being for doing what I love most and carving a path that simultaneously helps other and sustains me!

Sean and I just got back on Monday from a week away where we were putting our supplies on the barge to Alaska, followed by a weekend of stories, songs and poetry at the 18th Annual Fisher Poets Gathering in Astoria, Oregon. Over 1500 people attended and Sean had two 15 minute sets/readings, one on Friday in a rowdy pub, called The Wet Dog, and one on Saturday at the Astoria Event Center. Both times he blew the audience away and I was bursting with joy and pride, watching him merge his passions for fishing and writing in such seamless and artistic ways.

Because we knew Sean would be working on my actual birthday, on our way home from Fisher Poets, we spent Sunday celebrating and frolicking at Ecola State Park near Cannon Beach, Oregon, climbing volcanic rock, exploring caves, suckling the dripping water from mossy rocks, watching minuscule snails make artistic trails in the tide pools, admiring the geology while exploring our inner and outer landscapes in our typical curious and penetrating fashion. I feel more enlivened and in love, more trusting and safe in my relationship with Sean than ever before. He’s been showing up in extraordinary ways and I am thoroughly ecstatic to be doing life with such a soulful, talented, big-hearted, creative, loving, curious, sensitive, intelligent, strong and expressive man.

This year, on 3.3.15, I turned Thirty One-derful surrounded by some of my favorite people eating delectable food, sipping Puerh tea, cuddling and listening to more stories, songs and poems – this time though, in honor of me. The joy I feel to be alive and experiencing this much outpouring and reflections of love, it is beyond words.

I feel a fabulous year coming on. So, thank you 30, it’s been profound, intense and excruciating at times, and I am ready to release you and move with grace and ease into this next circle around the sun, as I continually become more ME.

Thank you Karen Joy Gimbel and Mark Allen Hall for making my life possible. I am forever grateful.

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The Breadth of it All

Ever Shifting SandHow is it that
In one moment
The Sun rises with your Smile

And the next
It vanishes behind the storm
Of engulfing anguish?

Today my heart unfurls for you
Like a time lapse lotus
Glowing golden radiant
Winged and true

Yesterday my soul fell into starless shadows
Embroiled in the wounded past
Plunged into cavernous despair
Cut open on the jagged edges of our discord

To the depths of this human experience
We dive together
To the heights of mountainous bliss
We ascend again and again

Sadness and Joy the eternal twins
There cannot be one without the other
They are two sides of a rich life

So with this knowing
May we keep walking
Keep riding these endless waves
Embracing each other
And the breadth of it All

The Space Between

The Space Between

The Space Between

Explosions formed these mountains of scalable red earth
Ancient rocks stand silent, providing sanctuary
A weary heart finds home in the calm crevasses

It emanates a steady rhythmic beat
Amplified by luminous clouds and azure skies
Penetrating, comforting, accompanying

Soaring birds make friends with the wind
Their shadows dance on the winding river’s edge
Dry pine and twisted juniper, the scent of peaceful memories

Autumn is making her gentle entrance
Drawing out summer’s last breath
Setting elegant fire to the landscape

She walks alone in wordless contemplation
Welcoming Earth’s freely offered perspective
Dancing this transition in the Space Between

Cyclical Sadness – Seventeenth of September

Miss you more than ever papa.

Miss you more than ever papa.

Dearest Daddy,

Today marks 6 years since you took your last worldly breath. I was honored to be there and sad to see you go.

*****************************

Last night, I found myself in a dark shadowy pit of sadness that I just couldn’t shake, deep wracking grief-filled sobs. I could barely function, and took the worst of it out on my Beloved, Sean. Even though it hadn’t dawned on me, it wasn’t hard for him to make the connection.

“What day is it?” he asked gently.

“September 17th tomorrow”, I replied.

Nothing more needed to be said. But after a long pause…

“May I make a suggestion?” Sean asked. “Take tomorrow to do only things that you love. No worrying about money, career path, purpose, how to start your business. Do only things you love.”

So after I dropped him off at work, I thought about what I loved to do and reveled in the thought that I could spend the ENTIRE day letting Love be in the driver seat.

I love sleep – so I went back to bed and got some much needed sleep and traversed vast moving deserts, fold-able cities, paper pirate ships, disappearing giants and dancing forest people, all in my fantastic dreams.  I love dreaming too.

I love hot showers and dressing up for no reason. So I did.

I love time alone, so instead of reaching out to spend time with friends, which I love a little more, I dedicated the day to myself.

I love hiking and walking, being up high and being able to look out over vast landscapes or sparkling cities, so I headed to the top of Mt. Tabor (more of a large hill in South East Portland) and lay in the grass and stared at the sky.

I love inspiration and infusing my life with beautiful reflections and meaningful purpose, and so I honored a phone date I’d been looking forward to with my Soul Twin Sister, Christine, who helped, as usual, remind me of who I am and what I offer. I am forever grateful for her outstandingly accurate and resonant mirror. She always remembers this special day, and honors my father’s life with her words and prayers.

****************************************

In remembrance and celebration of your life, daddy, I took myself out to lunch at an Indian restaurant in town. It’s not a place known for its ambiance, nor its service. Just like you, that doesn’t bother me when the food is delicious. I went there because I knew that they specialized in one of your all-time favorite dishes, Masala Dosa. The thin crepe made of lentil flour wrapped around a potato-pea-carrot mash of flavor and spice, served with a cup of Sambar, the brothy yet savory vegetable lentil soup. When I ordered, the handsome young server, son of the cooks, informed me that they don’t make Dosas during the day because it takes 45 minutes to heat up the grill. I told him ‘my dad died 6 years ago, this was his favorite food, if you’d be willing to heat up the grill, I’d be honored, and I’m happy to wait’. He gave me an awkward look and obliged.

The taste reminds me of you – full of flavor and spice for life. I’d much rather have you here than be eating alone and remembering you, but you live on in my heart and my refined and international taste buds.

Along with this love and appreciation for delights and adventures of the gastronomic persuasion, I believe that I acquired many of the traits of I love most about myself, from you.

You loved music and introduced me to some of the greats way before I could understand them, like Pink Floyd and The Moody Blues. You’d sit me down and we’d listen to the album from beginning to end and you’d sigh “these guys were way ahead of their time”. I understand now.

You had such a powerful connection to the Earth, especially the ocean and taught me safety, awareness and most of all, respect for her power. You showed me the miracle that is the salmon run in Bristol Bay, Alaska, and I will be forever grateful for the legacy you passed on to me, I am now in the process of creating my own. Thank you for the amazing gift that is that world, it has shaped me in so many positive ways and showed me my own power and strength. Plus I found the beautiful man that is now my beloved husband while up there fishing. I’m sad you you never got to explore each others minds and hearts, as I know you would have truly seen each other.

Your mind was deep, questioning inventive and intelligent.

Your capacity for empathy, compassion and generosity was immeasurable and unforgettable.

Your huge heart burst with love and affection for those you cherished.

You had a remarkable talent for working with your hands and legend had it that you could fix anything.

You possessed an innate and unavoidable ability to see the essence of others and the suffering they endured, you bore the burden of this knowing, like it was your own. So sensitive. So overwhelmed by humanity. I relate.

You marveled at the small wonders that exist in the world all around us all the time. Thank you for infusing me with such awe.

You adored LAUGHTER and healthy servings of mischief, and had a delightfully bizarre sense of humor and and penchant for stimulating joy. I definitely inherited these traits 🙂 I loved your goofyness.

You went out of your way to assist, serve and even rescue others and never asked for anything in return.

You had strong opinions and an occasionally sharp tongue, and yet an open mind and quickness to forgive. I relate.

You taught me how to DREAM BIG and celebrate our wild imaginations.

Papa, you were a cast-out, misfit and more often than not, misunderstood. You struggled to find your people, yet were loyal to your friends. I have recently felt more welcome and connected to my tribe than I ever dreamed possible, but I remember most of my life feeling like an outsider.

There were so many things I wanted to do, see, experience together in this lifetime. I miss you all the time.

Today also marks 11 months and 11 days since Sean and I had our beautiful wedding and celebrated our mutual YES to life together. I felt you there that day.

Thank you for making me with my mama, using both of your awesome magical powers. I’m so grateful for this life, as fraught with pain and questions as it can be sometimes.

She came to Burning Man this year for the 1st time and had a blast. I thought about you so much, thinking what a grand and wild adventure you’d have had at the Burn. I know you loved to build and burn things. You loved eccentric people. You loved beauty and sacred spaces. You loved partying. It would have been a great fit.

You had a cameo in my dream this morning. These people were trying to get me to wear an emergency inflatable life suit while fishing. I kept asking them to tell you that I had been fishing my whole life without it, so why start now? But I went through the motions with them, timing how long it took to suit up, thinking “Thanks for wanting to keep me safe, Dad”.

I love and miss you Daddy, and am glad we had the time we did. I’ll cherish the memories eternally.

These Inconvenient Needs

I have a need for connection. A powerful, at times overwhelming, need for meaningful, thoughtful loving connection. Especially with my beloved. Sometimes, this need arises inconveniently, like when we are trying to allow for each others solo time and (especially his) autonomy.

We are spending a few days apart while he goes to climb Mt. Hood with his good buddy and I am staying at a friend’s home – a mini retreat of sorts – for 3 nights. I feel great about our movement, until I receive the cryptic text message that he won’t be climbing Mt. Hood tonight after all, rescheduling for the coming weekend due to weather and a miscommunication. I interpret his distant tone and lack of warmth as a form of rejection and watch myself spiral from there. We are still navigating this world of trying to be more conscientious of our time together and giving each other more consistent physical and energetic space. Tonight I find it challenging to not slip into a cycle of trigger and story-making madness.

I feel like I’m drowning in my needs – for affirmation, reassurance, kindness, consideration, harmony, affection, and most especially Empathy, and simultaneously attempting to honor and meet his needs for sovereignty, autonomy, space, solitude, and freedom.

I question how it is possible to find ourselves in this tumultuous emotional turmoil a mere 48 hours after a blissful day hiking Wind Mountain in the Columbia Gorge while traversing important life topics and talus slopes, followed by a potent and magical evening packed with exquisite conversation, eye gazing, music, dancing, playing, bonding, deepened intimacy and ecstatic loving connection?

Why is there inevitably a low valley after a magnificent peak?

Are our conflicting needs equating to irreconcilable differences, at least in the department of how we manage our time apart, or is there a middle way, and what does that look like? Do I give up my heart’s desire, my need for connection and affection, in order to provide him with the independence and space he needs, or vice versa? Is there a solution, a way for us to have both our needs honored and met joyfully by the other? What does it really mean to compromise, make concessions,  or even sacrifices for the sake of our relationship, and how do we do that without be swallowed up? How do we know if we are loosing our sense of Self or even letting go of important aspects of ourselves in order to show up for the other? Why is it so hard right now to utilize our communication and relationship tools, to move through these challenging times with more grace and ease?

Right now, the words that my soul would melt upon hearing would go something like this: “Heather, I am deeply honored and excited to have you in my life. I had an amazing time with you, thank you for such a delicious day. I look forward to connecting again soon, and for now, even though I’m not off climbing a mountain, I would still appreciate a couple days without contact to recenter and enable me to more fully show up for you when we see each other next.”

Usually, I genuinely encourage him to take his space, to go away for a weekend in the mountains or a walk in the woods, sometimes, I even sense that need or desire earlier than he. During the time apart I am usually happy, content and busy with my own life and therefore the space we take is inevitably refreshing, rejuvenating and recalibrating for our connection. But these days, for a multitude of reasons, I feel extraordinarily vulnerable and tender. It’s as though the goodness that is beginning to re-emerge, the fresh foundation that we are laying, the powerful healing we’ve been working toward (after the significant storm our relationship recently weathered), are all still fragile and need attending to, nurturing and our focused mutual effort. I believe it’s OK to request more compassionate presence right now, to repair the recent damage done and come back to a place of balance and trust, where I can once again open-heartedly, joyfully celebrate our times of distance, of doing our own thing, of intentionally spending time apart.

I trust the process, and most everything points to a rich and rewarding future together, but WOW, sometimes loving and caring this much about another being while facing our wounds and triggers together HURTS!

For now, in order to sleep, I take comfort in knowing that I have what I need within me to find peace and love myself regardless of what comes up, and that I can find ways to give myself healthy forms of comfort during times of turbulence.

I see now, the answer to my question regarding peaks and valleys is this: without one there is not the other. One is not better than the other, but rather each are integral to the landscape of life. Without experiencing the depths of our pain and sorrow, we cannot fully experience and appreciate the heights of our happiness and bliss. Like the dance between laughter and crying, expressions which are often remarkably similar, sorrow and joy are twins who come together, hand in hand, showing us the breadth of human experience.

Thank you for triggering me. It shows me where I need to work on myself, where I could use some healing.

Thank you for loving me through all of this, it helps me feel safe to be ever more vulnerable and trusting.

I trust that with time and combined effort we will become increasingly adept at navigating our varying needs and the associated emotional responses.

Meanwhile, I will keep breathing through the mountainous ascents and descents of our union.

Even In The Valley

Even In The Valley

 

 

Groundless and Free

Heart Forward

Heart Forward

A perfectly timed visit. Washing up on the soft shore of my mother’s chest and sister’s cheek brings the first sense of safety and signs of life beyond THIS.

This wild storm that shook me of my own senses, thrashed me amongst cresting swells of doubt and fear, drowning me in saltyocean agony and seemed to be threatening to take away the most important being in my life, the one I’ve come to love so deeply – eternally lost at sea without my favorite emergency boat-mate with whom to adventure.

But weather is weather, and well, the only guarantee is that it never stays the same. Gasping for air, bashed knees and bruised heart, shredded clothes and severed trust, still, I found myself slowly breathing. Oxygen in, Carbon Dioxide out – sweet simple chemistry without which only my spirit and the memories of me would remain. Reaching out my hands I feel powder fine silica sand – the strong soft comfort of my mother, and feel the warmth of an afternoon sun – my sister’s empathetic and radiant smile and trust that the storm I just endured was somehow here for my awakening. Why? Because it happened.

I am being vague on purpose. I am exhausted by the minutia of this story, the constant re-telling of which has only caused it to be more deeply ingrained in my neural networks. I’m ready to re-wire my synapses, to explore what else is possible and to learn to love and accept myself more deeply and intentionally. I have been exploring what it is that I need to feel loved, safe and free to dream with my beloved, and whether or not he is interested in, capable of or willing to meet me in these ways.

I’ve been back in Portland, my home, for four weeks since returning from our three months abroad in Nepal, India and Indonesia. In this time I’ve been seeing a counselor who specializes in the Hakomi method – a mindfulness, experiential, body-centered approach to therapy. I’m learning how to be more mindful of anything from the sensations in my body to the past schema I carry that informs my present, basically I’m learning how to be more conscious. This is not easy, especially in real-time practice. The knee jerk reactions that I am prone to express in states of heightened emotionality or charge are steeped in old trauma that is begging me to be addressed, imploring me to be released and replaced with new healthier stories and responses. This perspective has been essential in helping me to feel witnessed and heard, to receive affirmation that I am not falsely fabricating, I am not making a big deal out of nothing, and nor does it serve anyone for me to continue subjecting myself to this relentless cycle of pain.

Our soul-contracts in this lifetime can be quite mysterious. Why did I come into the world at this time, with these parents, these wounds, these patterns, in this body, what am I ultimately meant to contribute to this world as a result of my collection of experiences? Why all of this pain? Why did I attract this person or experience into my life, and how do I get curious about what it is that we are meant to learn from one another? Because herein these questions lay the keys to our freedom to relinquishing that which would be better left behind.

“My biology is my biography”. This phrase was uttered in passing today in a session with our Mindful Relationship Consultants, from the male counterpart. It struck a bell inside of me. This body, it is a lightning rod for truth, and I carry all of my emotions within it, all of the traumas, wounds, stories, beliefs…they are being stored in my nervous system and it is up to me to bring awareness to the sensations that can help me unlock, release or merely be present to unhealthy or imbalanced ways of responding, communicating or being. Eventually, this mindfulness brings a sense of deep peace, powerful trust and empowered capacity to engage with myself, others and the world around me with less impulsive reactivity and more compassion, joy, kindness, and love.

I have always been a highly empathic creature, and yet still am becoming increasingly aware of the consequences of my actions, the impact of my behavior on others, the power of my presence and my love. It is not an easy path being truly empathetic, being so consistently tuned in to the feelings of others, but I choose it with my whole heart. I’d much rather be ever-more vulnerable, open and sensitive than hardened, closed and numb.

Of late, I have allowed myself to become a less trusting person. This saddens me and I long to reconnect with my younger, passionate self that adamantly believed in the inherent goodness and trustworthiness of people. Somewhere along the way, around age 26, I started allowing suspicion, doubt and mistrust to creep into my consciousness.  It’s no surprise that I began finding people and experiences that reinforced the idea that people are untrustworthy and capricious. I am in the prolonged process of building back my trust for myself and others, of discerning caution from fear, naivete from denial, and belief from blindness. I am learning to attend to myself and how to speak uncomfortable truths and set healthy loving boundaries. I am cultivating my intuitive capacities and learning to listen even more to my heart, to let it be my compass and guide me toward healing and wholeness.

 

Breathe in.

 

Breathe Out.

 

Notice thoughts. Let them go.

Breathe In. Breathe out.

Allow myself to BE.

To be with my feelings and the sensations in my body, without judgement…

Breathe IN.

And Out.

 

…I feel a meditation practice coming on…

 

 

 

Here’s Lookin’ At You, Girl

Sir, does your kind shoppe possibly provide the new fangled invisibility cloaks? They must exist. I’ve seen them in movies, after all. I dreamed. Thoughts like, “would you kindly avert your gaze, as this is my husband here next to me, and you wouldn’t want to be lusting after a married woman now, would you?!”

Photo by "Ayashok Photography"

Photo by “Ayashok Photography”

Translation: STOP STARING!

Just after sunset on January 31st, Sean and I stood waiting for a 12-hour-night-bus to pick us up and whisk us away from Bikaner to Udaipur, and ALL eyes were on me. That penetrating entitled style staring that burrows holes through one’s hardened travel exterior. Is it the flaxen red hair? The pale freckled skin? The green-blue eyes? The fact that I’m a woman wearing pants and shirts, more like an Indian man, compared to the flowing, glittering rainbow colored saris that Indian women wear? Or, is it, perchance, a pure loving light radiating from my core, my unique and beautiful essence from which they are unashamedly incapable of turning their eyes away.

Five minutes before, on our walk to the bus depot, three boys on a scooter slowed down to a crawl and hissed aggressively at me, “Hey baby, you want some…?” all laughing at the hilarity of their genius English language capacity. Sean swung around and said “Get the F’*** out of here” pointing to somewhere far away. Moments after they seemed to have taken his direction, they reappeared, donning their most menacing faces, and hollered violently, “Hey F*** YOU!” We were both grateful they continued on their journey, and didn’t stop to find out what else we might have to say. I wanted to somehow communicate to the seemingly harmless locals that this was decidedly NOT the moment to be harassing us, what with our recently weakened travel resilience and deeply disappointed hearts.

Ten minutes before the lascivious-trio-scooter incident, we had walked out of the Shri Ram Heritage Hotel, our home for the past 8 days, hearts pounding, reddened faces, and a resolve to never again be so naïve as to take a soft-spoken, seemingly kind hotelier at his word, at least regarding room rates.

Eight days prior to our departure, Yoghendra Singh had welcomed us into his hotel set amongst the lavish homes of the upper-middle class retired military and government employees on the edge of the dusty desert town of Bikaner, saying, “you are welcome to go anywhere in this hotel, please see it as you home, you are part of our family now”. I had been sick the day before and incapable of helping to find a hotel.

Sean had booked us a room for 3 nights here, not realizing the price was 2,600 rupees per night, nearly $50, far above our typical budget at around $10-20/night. The night of our arrival into Bikaner, a raging fever and emblazoned bowels took hold of Sean’s sanity and didn’t depart for two days. I inquired with “Yoghi” about moving to another room more in our price range, but as Sean was so sick and moving would be challenging, perhaps he could offer us a discount on the room?

After telling me that he already gave a discounted rate at 2600 Rs/night, it was usually 3000/night, I said I understood and that we would be happy to move, but then, with kindness in his eyes and his hand on his heart he said “I can give you this room you are staying in for 1000 Rs/night” – I was blown away by his generosity, “Of course we shall stay there then, thank you for your understanding.”

Sean slowly recovered, after several more days in bed with excursions outside only to visit the doctor or get bloodwork tests to explore what it was he might have contracted, after hearing from our doctor friend in Nepal that his two weeks of symptoms sounded dangerously in alignment with Typhoid Fever. (His bloodwork was perfectly normal, which prompted the doctor to wobble his head and ask, “well?”) During our stay, Yoghi was continuously generous with his time, support, local information and even helped by taking me with him on errands to the grocery store.

On our last day in Bikaner, he helped us send a package home from the post office that involved many complications, but ended in success. We went out for some food and drink outside the beautiful Junagarth Fort, a stunningly ornate example of Rajasthani architecture and artistry. We drank lime sodas, ordered food, and Yoghi shared some interesting stories about his life.

Yoghi married a woman in an arranged marriage who told him on the day of their wedding that the priest who had done their horoscopes to see if they were a compatible match had fudged the truth, that their horoscopes were actually not at all compatible, and that she was actually a few years older than him. He said he was grateful that she was at least honest. He’s quick to point to her photo from their wedding day and say “unfortunately, that is my wife”, and when I asked what he meant, he responded, “well, because I think she is now at least three times that size”.

The hotelier is deathly afraid of his father, a well-decorated and highly respected commanding officer in the Indian Army who took out his frustrations on his son when he didn’t obey or pursue his studies, with daily beatings. “But I am grateful for his beating me, as I wouldn’t be able to speak English as I do, it was actually a wonderful benefit,” Yoghi smiled. He was recently beat nearly to death, not by his father thank goddess, but by a gang set upon him, supposedly for asking his neighboring Camel Safari Resort owner to turn down his ear-blastingly loud music.

He’s never traveled outside of India, and when he left Bikaner to see another town, he was so afraid to leave his hostel room that that is where he remained for his 15 day trip. Yoghi loves American tunes and Western travelers, welcoming in volunteers to his hotel through websites like HelpX and WorkAway who do random jobs or paint murals on the hotel walls for a week or so, keep him company, and probably don’t hurt his upperclass status.

I enjoyed his company, I felt a strange mix of confusion and compassion for his life that seemed regulated by deeply ingrained tradition and self-imposed resignation to his family life, especially in contrast to my incredibly free-moving traveling life where I am limited by very little in the way of my own culture. For instance, in India, it is illegal, Yohgi informed us, to provide a hotel room to an Indian man and woman whom cannot procure marriage documents. I count my blessings.

When it was time to check out, just an hour after our lovely meal and conversation outside the fort, and moments before catching our bus, Yoghi handed me the bill.

I balked.

The printed price was double what we had agreed upon. I stated this, and thus began the back and forth of he said, she said. Sara, the new volunteer from New Zealand, sat with him behind the plexiglass-enclosed desk, and pretended she was engaged in important business on the laptop. She was avoiding eye contact during the heated discussion by playing Solitaire.

Something had gone wrong in our communication. Wires had crossed. Language barriers has caused havoc. Interpreted kindness had been a misunderstanding. I was feeling hormonal, rushed from all the last-minute packing, tired from a now two-week-4-city-hundreds-of-hours-of-bus/train/taxi/autorickshaw-travel-caretaking-episode… I was beside myself, and at the end of my graceful negotiating powers.

I let him know I was NOT happy, that I felt he should honor what he offered or at least meet me half way, that it wasn’t costing him anything extra to have us in that room (the hotel was nearly empty our entire stay, and the shower didn’t even work), that there was no way we would have stayed in our room if that had truly been his price, and that I felt deeply saddened because everything up until this point had been wonderful. I abhor ending on a bad note. He kept repeating a story that I came to him and negotiated 2000 Rs/night for our room, which with every iota of my being I knew was completely false. Oh, how money disputes can sour a relationship within nanoseconds.

Sean put up a fight too, both of us trying to move with kindness and integrity, while also feeling outraged at the powerlessness of the situation. Yoghi wouldn’t budge from his story. Sean suggested I not sign the receipt, and we could contest the payment later. I couldn’t bring myself to take the conflict any further.  My card went through. I signed the receipt, and left without a goodbye or eye contact. I did, though, turn around and see Ram Sindher (who had been my buddy in the tiny kitchen all week as I tried to make bland, uncomplicated food for both Sean and my compromised Gastro-Intestinal systems), and bowed with pressed palms, “Danyabaad Ram, thank you for everything”. I wish I’d given him the tip he deserved, but I was seeing red at that point and not in my best composed state of mind.

Enter moments later, scooter with three terrorizing stuck-in-teendom-men spewing lewd comments at me as I walked next to my husband.

Enter moments after that the crowd of men from boys to the elderly, all taking time to pause their daily activities and look, gaze, leer and stare in my direction.

Praying for the bus to come and sweep us away to a kinder, gentler, easier place, I found solace only in the arms of my beloved. Grateful for his height and sympathetic heart. He detests the staring almost as much as I do.

The bus finally came. A tall rectangular savior with wheels, painted fuchsia pink. Our ‘sleeper’ seats turned out to be a small rectangular cubicle, delightfully anonymous, with a foam mattress to curl up on and try to rest through the constant interruption from a raucous yodeling horn and the turbulence of an endlessly uneven road.

Our careening bright pink carriage dropped us off pre-dawn at our current location – a paradisiacal, romantic castle upon a lake called literally, Dream Haven Hotel (it’s a castle as  far as I’m concerned, it is a budget hotel after all) where we stood to watch the sweet sunrise over temples and white washed buildings cascading down to the shimmering lake’s edge. Things are looking up for us on this trip. “This is the first place in India I’ve thought was truly beautiful”, Sean commented from our rooftop restaurant. I agree.

Udaipur, my heart has longed for you and intuition led me to you. Thank you for being here to hold us more gently, more kindly, in a more ease-ful embrace. I am here. A growing smile upon my face. Breathing more deeply and ready to fall in love again. With you. With myself. With my slowly-regaining-himself husband. With life.

With India.

A Month Without a Mask

Accentuated EyeI learned how to be a woman from my mother, as do most children. I loved watching her prepare for work with morning rituals that involved a hot shower, blowing her hair dry into a beautiful thick mane of blonde layers, applying eyeliner, mascara and hot red lipstick, selecting and adorning herself with tasteful elegant jewelry, rolling up translucent black nylons over her muscular calves and thighs, shimmying into her executive outfits usually involving a hip-hugging knee-length skirt, a beautiful blouse and some version of a sleek blazer or jacket and heading off for work. She was always so put together and professional, yet this persona did not hide her wild, wise and sexy self. I admired her intelligence and grace, her pursuit of spiritual growth and knowledge, in addition to her beauty. Men walked into telephone poles and fell off bridges looking at my mother. Men came calling at our door and spent the night enjoying my mother. Men absolutely worshiped the ground my mother walked upon. A powerhouse of capability, ferocious honesty, sensuality, dynamism, high quality tastes, my mother has never had a problem finding love.

My maternal grandmother has never worn makeup or jewelry. A sign of Seventh Day Adventist humility, not adorning oneself with frivolous decor is a gift to God that says “I worship only you, I idolize nothing in this world but for you”. Like their surprisingly bare, stark and humble churches, conservative SDA women choose to remain plain and simple, not even wearing wedding rings. So you can imagine I was a bit confused and surprised when, at 12 years old, my grandma handed me a chrome eye-lash curler and said “You can have it if you would like. I never enjoyed using it, but your grandfather wanted me to curl my lashes and so I did, for a long time, but now I’m done.” I took it home and practiced in the mirror, leaning forward and making bedroom eyes at myself, positioning the implement around my upper eyelashes and squeezing down hard, crimping them into what now appeared to be longer, thicker, curlier and more luscious lashes. I loved it.

I bought my first tube of mascara shortly thereafter and since then, for the past 16 or so years, I have been curling my lashes and applying mascara nearly every day with rare exceptions. Around the same time, I began blow drying my hair smooth every morning and have always enjoyed the feeling of running my hands through the silky, even-textured layers of golden-red mane.

I’ve never worn a lot of makeup, never caked concealer (to cover blemishes), foundation (to provide even skin tone) and powder or blush on my skin. I don’t like the look of excessive face makeup – seeing women with loads of color-rich eyeshadow, thick eye liner and clumpy mascara, glossy red, pink or brown lips, painted eyebrows, shimmering rosy cheeks and a dark border under the jawline marking the edge of ill-matched-to-their-skin-tone foundation – this has always turned me off. In general, I admire subtlety and natural beauty, with, if any, small accentuations that are barely noticeable. I’ve been known to comment “She would glow so much more beautifully if she didn’t cover up her face with a mask of makeup”.

And yet…we emulate what we’ve learned from the world around us, imitating parents, actresses, friends, models and magazine ads, attempting to improve what we inherently have. But this is not an article discussing the multitude of ways in which women are bombarded with messages that we should be something other than we are in order to be beautiful, to be successful, to find true love. It is a story of a little redheaded freckle-faced girl who learned a few beautifying tricks in adolescence that stuck. And that she now wants to confront, explore and understand more deeply.

I think, in moderation, beautifying activities are actually quite delightful feminine festivities. I loved getting my makeup and hair done professionally, for my Autumn wedding just a few short months ago. I experience great fulfillment and reward from painting faces, mine and other people’s, cutting hair, preening, primping, curling, straightening hair and especially in my teenage years, giving makeovers to my girlfriends for special events. These days, I genuinely enjoy blow-drying my hair and wearing mascara, I’ve even added a wee bit of eyeliner to the repetoire. I don’t plan on eliminating these things from my life, but I think it’s high time I questioned the concepts of beauty that I’ve bought into and play with other possibilities, looking more searchingly into these habits to see if and why they work for me.

So this January, the first month of this new year, 2014, I’m choosing to conduct an expiriment, rather than a resolution – to feel what it is like to see through eyes uncluttered by beauty products, to look myself in the mirror and see if I can truly see me as beautiful, as radiant, as lovable without any accentuation. No hair-drying, no makeup, just a clean clear face, simple and authentic.

I am curious, do you explore the practices you have adopted that revolve around physical appearance and beautifying. Do you do it for others – to feel more approachable, acceptable, beautiful, worthy, feminine, masculine, sensual, exotic, desireable etc? Do you play around and experiment with physical beauty and what it feels like to change up these habits from time to time?

We shall see what comes of this experiment, I can only assume it will bring more insight into who I am and why I am the way I am. For now, I am stepping with courage into a vulnerable practice of leaving behind the things I have long-believed were essential ingredients to my beauty and desirability. I’d love to hear your thoughts and personal stories.

Thank you for being here. For reading this and supporting me on my human journey.

After the Dark Night, the Illuminated Sky

Sunrise over the Everest Range, Nagarkot, Nepal

Sunrise over the Everest Range, Nagarkot, Nepal

Colors are more vibrant this morning. The striking crimson of the pointsetta and bougainvilla, the burnt umber skin of the waitstaff on our rooftop terrace cafe, the green of my beloved’s softening eyes, even the furling pearly grays of the sky seem lit from behind with impending blue.

To come up for air after such a sustained period of drowning in the ‘lower’ or ‘negative’ waters of our new marriage is sweet respite and feels simultaneously fragile. Will this new lightness in our step, these fresh flirtatious flavors of love, this warmth penetrating my achey heart, last? The answer is yes, the answer is no. We will ride these waves of high and low, good and bad, positive and negative, sunshine and shadow, calm and storm – for eternity. There is no escape. Alone or together, single or committed, we all walk this path of  life’s duality.

Duality is a fact of life.  Within oneself, and the outer world, every person experiences the light, as well as the shadow, the darkness.  I believe that the challenge at hand every moment, is choice. The choice of how I deal with these experiences, how do I respond and react? Do I run away, shut down, withdraw and retreat, close off and build walls against all the pain and anger and hurt and confusion of life? Or do I stand strong and supple hearted, welcoming the experiences with open arms, continually expanding my capacity to hold space for ALL THAT IS? I choose the latter. Most of the time.

Yesterday, we arrived back at our hotel after visiting the Indian visa in the early morning, and my husband, Sean, checked his e-mail. The inbox bore a Christmas  greeting e-mail from his caption from the previous two fishing seasons, included was a casual line something to the effect of “thanks for last season, and best wishes for your employment opportunities in 2014”. Fired. Seriously Robert? I thought you had more integrity and cajones than that. Regardless of Sean’s continual energetic message this past summer that read “I don’t want to be here, I don’t want to do this next year, never mind the bulging paycheck”, this news still hurt. How could it not, people typically like to make decisions regarding leaving (a job, a person, a place) on their own. I empathized, but also steered clear. Allowing him space to have his feelings, as unspoken and thick as they were.

I’m leaving, I said, and headed out to the rooftop lounge to finish my book (one I HIGHLY recommend “Written on the Body, by Jeanette Witherspoon) and clear space for my own thoughts to swirl. In-between paragraphs, I found myself wondering – will he fish with me or quit fishing altogether to pursue summers doing anything BUT picking salmon out of nets as he repeatedly proposes. Will we work well together or will it be yet another hurdle our relationship must overcome? Will we make money? Will we be able to pursue our dreams of buying land and building something of a home together? Will he run off chasing adventure and fun while I head up again to Bristol Bay to continue playing out my inherited destiny as Captain of the Silver Kris alone?

A man in sweats and t-shirt, appearing to have just awoken moments before, though it was nearly noon, approached me despite the fact I was hiding behind my novel.  After asking if he could join me, and my reluctantly agreeing, he began asking me about myself, the book I was reading, what I was doing in Nepal…was I there alone. I pointed to our room on the 4th floor, next to the restaurant and said “No, my husband, Sean is in that room”. The tension immediately dissipated as he changed the course of our conversation from possible flirtation to genuine curiosity and desire for connection. We talked for a while and I appreciated his directness, and the masala tea, known as chiya, here in Nepal he offered to pay for. We said goodbye politely, and that was that.

I headed down the stair to find Sean sitting in the dark reading his book. Somber and downtrodden still, I sat and nuzzled him, tried to soften the blow of his job loss with my usual mantra of “If not this, than something even better”.  Down came the stairs, who came but Vikash. I introduced them. He asked how Sean was doing and with the kind of honest I love him so much for, he answered “not so well, actually, I’m having a bad day”, to which Vikash replied “tell me what happend”. After hearing Sean’s plight, to our surprise, he said “What great news! You need to have a couple of beers and it will all feel better, come my friend, my treat”.

Thus began a new friendship. Vikash, a 25 year old with chocolate skin, thick black hair and a well-trimmed beard, is the founder of a multi-million dollar business in Mumbai, the largest manufacturers in India of home decor, specializing in wall paper. He’s here in Kathmandu on a business trip, networking with distributers. He’s a good salesman and he sold us on a few of his philosophies over a tall Carlsberg – Sean’s first beer in Nepal. He talked about Passion versus Practicality and how he had decided to create a business pursuing his passion that involved supporting OTHERS, namely children, in following their passions (Note: apparently in India the pathways to a career are quite limited and it is not widely encouraged to ‘do what you love’ and ‘follow your bliss’, but rather, for instance, if you are a mathematician – which he is – there is basically one option for you, to become an engineer – which he did). This was successful, until he was thwarted by beurocracy, and then decided to build a business based more in practicality – the current home decor manufacturing, which has proven to be quite successful.

He counseled Sean on his opportunity at hand – you can make very good money blogging. Write relevant and original content every day, get a good readership, have a forum where people can dialogue and within three months you will be able to sell your blog to relevant websites like tripadvisor.com and hotels.com etc. It wasn’t this simple, but you get the idea. I watched as Sean’s face lit up with inspiration. I know he has avoided writing for money, partly because there is  a game to be played and it often requires writing what people want to google search vs poetic ponderings on life, love, social issues and adventure. He’s giving it a try, and after we said our goodbyes, he promptly pushed out a great blog post, which you can read here: http://www.freshcaughtman.wordpress.com , which I promptly read…in addition to his other posts on said blog.

It had been a while, and the words within those pages picked open my scabby wounds. I came back into the room and mentioned I’d read his blogs. He looked up at me furtively from underneath his brow – “what’d you think?”.

“I’m thinking of booking a spontaneous ticket home tomorrow, or heading to Bali early. Actually”. Sadness all over my face.

We pondered why we were even doing this. This being married thing. I told him that me ‘taking better care’ of him than he knew how himself, was not reason enough to stay together. That wanting the things I want in this relationship, are not unreasonable and that I stood strong in my desires, my needs, my requirements. “If you have anything to say, please, write me a letter, tell me why you want to be in this relationship, and what your true and honest feelings for me are, as we stand currently”.  A blank stare. Then tears, the rare ones that shed from his eyes and not mine, the kind that choke a person up and cause melting emotions to form puddles of one’s self on the duvet. I held his head in my hands, and silently wept too. I told him I’d be at the wood-fire oven pizza place for dinner at 7, that I hoped he’d meet me there, and shut the door.

I went to Sam’s Bar and wrote my own letter to him decorated in Buddhist symbols for infiniteness – no beginning and no end – like my love for him. The loktah paper (made from a shrub that grows in the Himalayas) was soft and fibrous and soaked up my inky feelings, my ideas for how to heal, my position -wanting to stay together – and how I felt about him, full of appreciation and acknowledgment, affection and attention.  As I sipped my last drop of lemon ginger honey tea and rereading the letter before tucking it in it’s envelope to leave, a thin chalky white cat with grey patches leapt up onto the ledge of the terrace bar. I made eye contact with her and she immediately crossed tables and chairs to get to me, curled up and found sanctuary in the warmth of my lap, twitching and purring, affirming my existence and lovability. This was probably the 3rd cat I’d seen in all of Nepal, despite (perhaps because of) the thousands of street dogs.

At the pizza place, a fancy unusually warm place for Nepal’s standards, we reconvened and sat staring into each other’s eyes for prolonged moments. After ordering we exchanged letters and lost ourselves in the written words of the other. A world most often reserved for people farther away and more mysterious. My heart blossomed with rainbow colored joy as I found love, longing, desire, appreciation and acknowledgement of what has been alive for him lately, within his banana-fibre pages. I felt enlivened, enriched, honored, adored, seen and heard. My reserves of romance were replenished like a rising thermometer. I felt a glow radiate out from my spirit, a lightened load, an illuminated hope.

My temptation to share this letter with the world is powerful, and yet I know those words were meant for me, to feed and nourish our relationship and give it fertile soil from which to continually grow.

The recent cloudy weather and stormy chaos has passed, for now. Our courageous love re-ignited. Our passions united and sense of connection re-calibrated.

The plan is to have a few more weeks of traveling in Nepal and India together, in order to give this marriage the necessary nourishment and foundation from which to take leave and travel alone. Then, to spend at least a month apart, to reconnect with our individual selves and seek that which we need to find on our solo paths.

I feel at peace today, with the ever changing tides of life, with the dark that makes space for the light, the shadow which supports discovering the gift.

And thank you, to all who reached out to share experiences, words of advice and wisdom and loving support. Your stories of marriage, changes over time, infidelity, struggles as well as the capacity to fall in love again and again in long term relationships has been the fresh air I needed. Your words have been my guiding light.

Namaste

Journey of a Fathomless Heart

Nagarkot, Nepal

Nagarkot, Nepal

With the deep indigo sky, a winter solstice full moon and the shrouded Nepalese Himalayan mountain range as my backdrop, I lay curled in the fetal position repeating over and over “I don’t want to exist, I want this to just go away, I don’t want to exist, I just want this to go away”.

Somehow, I still exist. And where is away, anyway?

My heart feels as though it has been through an emotional grinder, reached it’s capacity for pain, my tolerance, its tipping point. Yet my mind recognizes that my heart’s capacity for feeling is infinite, endless, truly fathomless. No one has ever died from sheer pain alone, physical or otherwise, though I’m sure there are enough stories of people dying ‘from a broken heart’ that could offer convincing rebuttals. Regardless, the heart knows no logic of the mind, as it has its own reasoning, and tonight, the heart beating in my chest wants respite from the agonizing dissonance between myself and the man laying next to me, my husband.

On the dark night, December 17th, day 7 of our extended honeymoon adventures, neither of us seem to possess the fortitude nor the relationship tools to come to a clear place of resolution, harmony, and connection. We have kissed once in the past week, it’s been even longer since we’ve made love. The past two months since our truly blissful wedding, have been some of the most distant and challenging. A variety of circumstances have played substantial roles in this dampening of our romantic feelings, such as working jobs neither of us enjoy in order to pay for said travels, a rushed week of trying to fit in all the wrapping-up-of-our-lives responsibilities and social engagements, and naturally, all of the unspoken expectations or ideas of what ‘married life’ might be like.

One of the sources of our current agonizing distance is a recurring topic, and that is this: the eternal other. The other place, the other person, the other job, the other woman. We live in an era of choice exhaustion – 27 types of shampoo or endless varieties of jeans for instance – which breeds dissatisfaction and disappointment or begs the ever present question “perhaps something else would be a better fit or flavor”. (For an interesting perspective on this subject, please view this TED talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/barry_schwartz_on_the_paradox_of_choice ). With all the available options, is it useful to come to a place of inner peace and contentment (not to be confused with settling or resignation) with our personal choices and circumstances? And how do we cultivate this state of being within ourselves?

The other source of our recent struggles, I can only posit, is that my deepest wounds need healing, and in this case, the ever-present concept of The Other Woman, is what is triggering my strong emotional reactions and therefore showing me where I need to heal, what I need to work on inside myself. Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist teacher and author, says that a problem will continue to show up in our lives until it is healed. So, if this issue is up for me, clearly, there is still more healing that needs to happen. I keep asking myself, “why is THIS up again, why do we have to keep talking about HER, why is it so painful, and am I making a larger deal out of this based on my personal pain, why can I not find neutrality in my response to his feelings for this other woman, what do I need to learn from this experience and when will it not cause such gaping rifts in our relationship?”.

Many people, women usually, remark on my strength, resiliency and capacity to hold space for my partners romantic and sexual curiosities or longings for other women. I almost immediately rebuke their adulations, comparing myself to my friends and acquaintances whom regularly swim in the turbulent waters of open relationship and polyamory, thinking my capacity quite limited in comparison. I have become, with increasing sureness, quite clear that I do not want an open relationship. There are many reasons I have for this, but that is not the focus of this piece. Let’s just say, I feel that the amount of vital life force energy it takes to maintain one complex and dynamic romantic relationship has proven quite enough for me. Life is short, I have myriad things I want to pursue and accomplish and that’s just not where I want to pour my time and energy.

One of my core wounds revolves around the concept of ‘enoughness’. Am I good enough, beautiful enough, intelligent enough, financially abundant enough, sexy enough, interesting enough? Enough to stick around, enough to love me, enough to desire me? Will making love to me, just me, Heather Beth Hall Talbot, for the rest of your life, be enough? Or will another woman’s heart, body and mind be too tempting to explore and risk damaging or losing what we have been co-creating? He recently said “I miss the feeling of falling in love”. How am I to interpret this without taking it personally? How am I not to imagine that this feeling may someday outweigh the feelings he has for me? There are many ways to leave a beloved. Will an affair be the end of our marriage? Would we be able to transcend that painful fissure?

**************

I’m especially aware these days, that our lives look endlessly romantic and happy. I post photos of from our adventures in Nepal and the many gorgeous wedding photos are on display for everyone to admire as well as inevitably thrust their individual projections upon, imagining what it is like to be US – as that is all one can really do unless we are actually IN someone else’s shoes. We are all products of our own schemas, influences and personal experience. A part of me wants to shout out to the world “It’s not all as sweet as it looks. The pictures tell a lie. It was all a big self-important ruse to convince ourselves and everyone else, that what we have is something special, something unique and worth celebrating!” Who are we to think we are so different than other couples heading down similar paths? It was a splendid display of deepening commitment and proclaiming our love in the presence of our tribe and family, yet what are we doing with all of that? How are we harnessing the love and commitment of our community to support our evolving future? Ever since that beautiful weekend, it has felt like a slow, but steady spiral of descent. In some ways, it is no surprise. I mentally prepared myself for this, that after the peak moment, the pinnacle life experience of our wedding, we would experience the nigh inevitable retreating tide of feel-good and romance, of excitement and wonder. I just didn’t think it would happen so fast, and some part of me hoped we’d be that rare couple that marriage helped ENLIVEN the relationship, not weaken or sour it.

So here we are. The day after Christmas. Returned from a three day trek where we climbed thousands of stairs toward the sun, Panchaase Peak (2509 meters), and our higher selves who’ve recently taken leave. Riding the waves of marital life, and only two and a half months in, on our rougher days, we occasionally allude to the END. Immobilizing silence usually follows, as neither of us know what to say, how to respond to the seemingly casual feelings the other has toward the dissolution of our relationship. Nowhere in our vows will you find phrases like “…until death do us part…”, or “…in sickness and in health”. So I wonder. What really holds this relationship together? Is it time to review our personally and co-created agreements/vows already? What would we revise?

I never question the deep love that lives between us, and yet, I wonder, are we so subject to our society that constantly endorses the idea that we should always be IN love and feel the burning desire for the other coursing through our every moment? Our culture is one that perpetuates the idea that the moment we don’t feel that intoxicating euphoria, we should run to the next exciting temptation or novel experience. I know that I often feel overcome by this dynamic differentiation and imagine that even though my beloved says he loves me endlessly, is incredibly grateful he married me, couldn’t imagine doing this trip with anyone else…does he truly desire me? Adore me? Think about me when we are apart? Long for me? Does he describe me with starry eyes and cosmic flair to others in my absence the way he does when talking about other women to me? Does he fantasize about going through this life together, holding each other’s worked and wrinkled hands in front of flickering flames while re-telling stories of our many international adventures? Does his heart burn for me – or does he continue with me out of fear of the alternative, as one of our dear guy friends once stated in answer to my question “Why are you in this relationship?”. Not a very romantic notion, though I’ve witnessed many relationships that have been held together by this and other detrimental concepts.

As always, my aim is to thrive, individually and in this relationship. Currently it feels as though we spend many of our days in survival mode. Even with the exquisite cresting white peaks of the Himalayan range soaring toward the heavens and infusing ancient mystical beauty into our souls on treks through the foothills – even on Christmas Day, when I am feeling my heart’s longing for home comforts and family connection – the distance in our pace on the trail and differing intentions for hiking (his for solitude, physical exercise and to be truly excellent at something, mine to witness natural beauty, connect, bond and experience our companionship) symbolize our current disparate relationship needs and we remain eons apart from one another.

Through all of this, I’m still amazed by our powerful connection and our ability to continually address what is alive between us, even when it is utterly uncomfortable. Every night we fall into our bed, in varying degrees of comfort and cleanliness, and within moments our bodies are melting into the eternal embrace, our perfected cuddles as we whisper “I miss yous” and “I love you so muchs”, and allow our dream-world selves to make up and heal in ways that our daily sentient selves could not. Every new morning I wake up grateful to be alive, grateful to be in his arms, and grateful to be where I am, both figuratively and literally.

I’m still learning to be a good human. I don’t always succeed, and Sean sees me at my worst, and somehow, still says he wants to continue life together, even if – and we agree on this – we could both benefit from some intentional time apart. I will continue the work of becoming the best version of myself. Perhaps that will be enough. I am enough. I am enough. I am enough.