Ninety Years

It’s eighty degrees with unseasonably low humidity. The post-bar exam fog in my brain is lifting, and my dad is meeting unexpected resistance as he carves into the hard, dry, Western Pennsylvania ground.

It’s late July and my dad and I are standing in the short summer shadows of hundred-year-old tombstones on Mars Hill, in Butler County. The worn engravings bear dates of birth and death that seem impossibly far apart for the era they mark. Row by row, we examine the graves of people who lived into their late seventies and eighties, 200 years ago. Later that day we meet a 94 year old World War II veteran who describes his plane crash, barefoot jungle trek and prison camp stay like he survived them yesterday. At nightfall, we’re on the covered porch overlooking 52 acres of rolling hills stretching into an infinite horizon of stars. Our eighty-year old hosts are reminiscing with my dad about their cross-country road trips before seat-belts and air-conditioning.

We made the pilgrimage to my dad’s home town to scatter my grandpa’s ashes. He died a month and a half earlier, at 92. Everything about our trip felt nostalgic. Like we’d taken a time machine into my dad’s childhood: old colonial buildings, two lane roads and the folksy lifestyle of everyone we met.

On the plane ride home, I think about the length of life and the passage of time. How our relationship to each one is shaped by our perception of the other. We design plans, make choices and move through each day with a long-view of ourselves and our place on the planet. We bank on ninety years.

Eleven months later I slump into my big, rickety, leather desk chair at 5:23p.m.  The office is quiet. My brain is dizzy and clouded from the stress and anxiety of trial preparation. For the first time in two weeks, I feel my muscles start to relax.

“I”m ready.”

I swivel to the left and reach for my keyboard. The phone rings.

It’s my client. The one with the story that’s kept me up three nights a week since we met in February. The one who I think about on my yoga mat and talk to in my dreams. Her trial is set for the next morning. Before any polite exchanges, she blurts it out: The key witness in our case is dead. She died this morning. A twelve page trial brief, a two hundred and seventy five dollar subpoena and an entire litigation strategy crafted around the testimony of a witness, a person, who no longer exists.

My mind starts spinning again. I frantically look around for the hidden camera, or the production crew from dateline NBC.

Nope. Nothing.

This is my real life.

Being a lawyer gives me a false sense of control over circumstances and outcomes. It’s an entire profession built around the illusion that a compulsive work ethic and relentless attention to detail avoids uncertainty and interference from the unexpected. Countless hours and full energy committed to bending reality and manipulating facts to conform to our preferences and perspective. If we need ninety years, we believe we can guarantee it.

The shocking overnight trial development jolts me into the reality of chance, and the power of change, moment to moment. It reminds me of a lesson I keep learning, but fail to accept. A week earlier, my professional mentor shared that a family member went to sleep one night recently, and didn’t wake up. He was thirty-eight. Two years before that, I casually hopped on Facebook one night to discover my dear friend had a tumor in her pancreas. 13 months later, she was gone. One summer night my brother took a fast turn on a motorcycle and lost the use of his right arm, forever. Two days after my twenty-ninth birthday, 20 parents of first graders sent their kids to school one morning, and never saw them again.

My friends and family suffer loss, battle cancer, and endure the unimaginable. Nobody ever sees it coming. Nobody could stop it, even if they did.

Lately, my life is dominated by recurring mantras of “if I just.” If I just finish this project. If I just make this deadline.  If I just survive this week, or month, or year. Each mantra presumes a sequence of events. Each sequence marks a period of time I don’t even consider not having.

Each period shapes a piece of my ninety years.

When something awful happens, I always have the same reaction.  Immediately, I commit to moving from “if I just” to “be different now.” Be happy. Be loving. Be present. Do what I want. Twenty four hours of purpose and intention.

Then my life interferes again.

Two days ago, I’m sitting with a friend from high school at a long, metal table, at a coffee shop, in our home town. Together, we’re reflecting on the life we didn’t envision at (almost) thirty. I ask him how he has the courage to live life on his own terms. He tells me, it’s simple: Figure out what you want to do and go do it.

I’ll add: Because even if you make it ninety years, nobody has that many to begin with.

My Life in Boxes

Right now I’m staring at my life in boxes.

It’s got me thinking about my life, in boxes.

In the box marked “regret” is the day I gave up on myself as a yoga teacher. And every minute I’ve spent in a tanning bed. It contains the moments I’ve yelled “what the fuck?!” in traffic or refused to let someone merge. It has a pile of aggressive political conversations and years of using feminism to harass my closest friends.

In the box marked “works in progress,” I pack my unfinished dreams: to learn how to speak Spanish, and play the guitar. To write a children’s book, and a trendy, stylish blog. To fly to Antartica and get my hands on a penguin. To be nice to strangers. And my family. And myself.

There’s an empty box marked “romantic relationships.” I keep trying to stuff my male best friend into it. He keeps wriggling away and insisting he doesn’t fit.

The “fears” box is overflowing. It’s like my closet, perpetually overstuffed. I’m in denial about its fullness and unwilling to purge it. The contents are so deep and dense I’m not even sure what’s in there. I can name a million reasons why I don’t need to find out.

There is a box for my happiest memories, one for my cherished friendships and another full of things I’m saving to some day spoil my brother’s kids.

There’s a box for lessons my mom taught me, like how to bake the perfect cheesecake and why mayonnaise is essential for moist garlic bread.

There are boxes I’ve moved all eight times since I left college. Others I’m moving for the first time. There are boxes that have been sealed since the last time I moved.

There are boxes I think I can’t live without, and others I pretend don’t exist.

Moving is part cleanse, part intervention. It’s an unavoidable confrontation with everything I’m carrying. It’s an opportunity to clear my life of clutter.

Or pack it away.

Some things are easy to discard, like t-shirts with stains and dresses I haven’t put on since 2008.

Some things are difficult to part with, like decisions I can’t make peace with and mistakes I’m still trying to understand.

In my imagination I cling to nothing.

In my living room, I have boxes and boxes of stuff.

I’m reminded that life is always moving. That every uncomfortable conversation, encounter or maneuver in traffic is a chance to let go. Or hold on. I can give it a label and put it in a box. Or I can observe it and leave it behind.

Love in Southeast Asia: Sacred Space

I was 22 when I first stepped on a yoga mat. I was an atheist gym-junkie who was too busy to stretch and had little interest in OM-ing about anything. I used to read, listen to my Ipod AND watch TV on the treadmill.

Back then, I had most of the world figured out. I knew for sure that sitting still and silence were waste-of-time activities that should be reserved for the elderly and boring people. I was far too young, vibrant and interesting to stop moving between waking up and (barely) sleeping.

I liked power yoga. I could get a vigorous workout without having to poach a cardio machine from a sorority girl at the John Wooden Center.

6 years and seventeen billion sun salutations later, I’m in the Royal Palace in Bangkok, Thailand.

It’s a labyrinth of exquisite temples. Each one has an ornate gold roof. They are adorned in shimmering stones, meticulously placed and impossibly well-maintained.

I’m in awe of everything, everywhere I look.

Hoards of noisy, bustling tourists obediently remove their shoes, cover their shoulders and enter each temple.

Inside, our collective energy is calm and meditative. We are quiet, reflective, introspective. We pray, we listen, we pay attention.

There is something magical about sacred space. Space reserved for worship, devotion, prayer, humility, kindness, compassion. Space that transforms each of us, as soon as we enter it. I look around and see people of all ages, cultures, religions, nationalities. Each of them has a look of serenity and appreciation.

We are not all Buddhists, but each of us is filled with respect and reverence.

I wonder what it would feel like if more space was sacred. If Starbucks, the freeway, the Santa Monica parking garages, were all areas in which we spoke softly, tread with awareness and honored each other. How it would feel if in ordinary places, we honored the silence.

I sit in meditation and gratitude. I feel myself get calm and still. I think about how far I’ve come. How many miles from home, how many lessons in letting go, how many breaths, how many yoga practices, how much work it’s taken to get to this moment. To be in this space.

To share it with my friends and the strangers around me.

I feel indescribably blessed.

Speak My Truth

I’ve been in hiding.

Hiding from my friends and family.

Hiding from my blog.

“I’m too busy to write.” “I don’t have the energy.” “At the end of a brutal day, I just need to zone out.”

All true.

All a load of B.S.

I have plenty of time to write.

Three days ago, I spent thirty minutes lying face down in the carpet on my living room floor.

I could have been writing.

Last night, I watched back to back episodes of “Duck Dynasty” on A&E.

I could have been writing.

I’m not writing because I don’t like what I have to say.

I feel sad, lonely and depressed. I feel lost, confused and hopeless. If I were to fill out one of those depression surveys you sometimes encounter at the doctor’s office, they’d likely keep me overnight for observation.

I can’t stand feeling like this. And  for me, the only thing worse than feeling like this, is other people finding out about it.

So I keep it to myself.*

I fake it out in public and lie to my friends.

I refuse to write.

Three years ago, I trained to be a yoga teacher. Many mantras, life philosophies and spiritual rules to live by emerged from my teacher training. Of these, the most frequently referenced was”speaking your truth.” We talked about it constantly. What it means, what it sounds like, how it feels. The consequences of not doing it. I remember the conversations. Listening to people have epiphanies, reveal themselves, cry. I was present and conscious in the room.

I never connected to the experience.

I thought, “I’m an honest, straightforward person. I rarely hesitate to give my opinion, in some cases, regardless of whether I’ve been asked for it. Speaking my truth? yeah. I got that.”

But in the last three years I’ve considered the ways and circumstances in which I don’t speak my truth.

Hiding from my blog is a big one.

When I judge my truth, I don’t speak it. When my truth conflicts with the standards I’ve created for how I should look, act, and think, I don’t speak it. When I convince myself that other people don’t want to hear my truth, I don’t speak it.

When I feel less than myself, I go into hiding.

Right now, I want to stop writing.

Truth: Throughout law school I was pretty arrogant. I celebrated, sometimes gloated, about how easy it is was for me. When I thought about studying for the California Bar Exam I figured I’d have a similar experience. What feels torturous and overwhelming for most people will feel completely manageable for me.

Truth: I was wrong.

Truth: I’m struggling to be patient, kind, compassionate and human in this process. I feel disconnected, angry and unhappy.

Truth: I pride myself on being a well adjusted person. I’ve had a daily yoga practice for six years. I meditate. I write in a gratitude journal. I read self-help books and spiritual blogs. In my imagination, I have an arsenal of coping skills.

Truth: I cried all day today.

Truth: I want to erase everything above this line and share a light-hearted story about using the voice activation feature in my new car.

Truth: I’m going to publish this anyway.

*special shout-out to my mom, to whom I always speak my truth, from whom I can never hide, and who is constantly peeling my pathetic, tired ass off the pavement, dusting me off, and helping me get on my way. She never gets credit, or gratitude, or recognition, but I love her deeply for seeing me and supporting me, no matter what.

Lessons from Heather

I’ve been afraid of dying as far back as I can remember. Big time afraid. When I was little I would stay awake at night and get anxious about it. My palms would sweat and my heart would race as I’d try to understand the idea of not being. Not hugging my mom, not eating ice cream, not running up and down the soccer field. Not feeling, not laughing, not talking, not breathing. Not existing. I’d go over and over the thought of it in my mind and then shudder, feel cold in my body, and try to fall right to sleep so I didn’t have to consider the implications anymore.

A year ago, a dear friend of mine was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. As soon as I heard the news, I had that feeling again. My palms started to sweat and my heart raced. I burst into hysterical tears thinking about Heather not being. When I woke up the next morning I thought about dying, for the first time, in a new way. I thought about how Heather is the least deserving of terminal cancer of any single person I know on the planet. Then I felt anger. I thought about how Heather might not be at my wedding, help me raise my kids, or hula hoop at the next yoga festival. Then I felt sad. I thought about the beautiful and inspiring way in which Heather lives her life. Then I felt hopeful. I thought, dying is a damn good reason to: be nice to everyone, love unconditionally, forgive easily and openly and live fully in every single moment I have. Then I felt empowered.

She wrote to me soon after her diagnosis and said, “I’ve been handed my mortality. We all have one, I just know where mine is coming from. It’s time to be present.”

Holy Shit. This woman is recovering from major surgery in the face of a death sentence and she’s still my own personal buddha. Her spirit is magical.

Heather is one of my greatest teachers. I want to honor her tremendous life by sharing some of her lessons. Her lessons have shaped and enhanced the woman I am always trying to become. It is through her lessons that I know she will be inside of me. Forever.

love everyone like they’re your own family

I loved Heather immediately. We had an accidental run-in on adjacent yoga mats, and I was instantly taken by her. She had captivating energy. She surrounded me with love. She made deep and sincere eye contact. She hugged me like we did it every day.

Just after we met, I saw her in the Zuda Yoga lobby before class. She was glowing with her usual radiance, tempered by a gentle aura of deep relaxation. She told me she’d slithered her way to class after a massage had transformed her body into liquid. “Have you ever gotten a massage?” I hadn’t. “OH giiiirrrlll. It’s a must. I’m going to get you one.” She disappeared with her cell phone for five minutes and returned with a business card. “Call Tyler anytime, everything’s taken care of.”

Is this lady for real?

Completely real.

Her early gift to me was the first of many extraordinary moments and circumstances where Heather taught me how beautiful it is to love people. All people. Unconditionally. The way you love your own. She loves every, single, person, every, single, day, the way most of us do only on Thanksgiving or at our close relatives’ weddings. Heather taught me that it’s silly to hoard your love. That life is more abundant, more joyful and more fulfilling, the more love you give out. Heather opens her home, her heart, her wallet, her patience, her attention, to the whole world. She makes us feel safe, like we belong, like we are loved. No matter who we are or how we show up.

It is remarkable.

I have tried to emulate this in my own life and have observed to important things. 1) damn it’s hard sometimes to love everybody. 2) Hell yeah, it’s totally worth it.

On Partnership

My parents’ marriage was a disaster.  Even as a kid, years before they got divorced, it was easy for me to see how terribly wrong they were for each other. By the time I met Heather, I was pretty convinced marriage was one of the easiest ways to ruin your life.

Dave and Heather defy everything I thought I knew about partnership. The first night I spent in their home felt transformative. Mutual respect. Equity. Love. Communication. Support. All of these qualities permeated their every interaction. I couldn’t believe I was watching grown-up, married people behave this way towards each other. It blew my mind. The more time I spent with the Redfords, the more I admired the way they worked as a team: parenting, planning, cooking, laughing, decision-making.

In the summer of 2010, Heather and I sat on the porch of a Squaw Valley condo and talked about love and partnership. I told her how much I admired her relationship with Dave. I told her how much I had learned from them, just being a part of their lives. She told me that marriage is work. She told me that loving someone for your whole life and having to live that life, is nearly impossible. She told me that in a marriage, there are days, even entire time periods where you don’t even like your spouse. She also told me, that she loves Dave so deep in her soul and is so committed to him, somehow, it all works out. That conversation, and all of the moments I spent with the two of them, were important lessons about sacrifice, and forgiveness, and love, and commitment. Heather taught me that finding a partner, loving them and making it work is one of the most beautiful ways to spend a life.

Living a full life.

The first time I went to Heather’s house I was invited for “dinner.” “Come over in the early evening, bring wine if you want, otherwise just bring your awesome self.”

So, I figured: have a little food, a little conversation, I’ll probably be back home and in bed by 11.

That night, Steven made crab cakes. He’s her youngest. He was sixteen at the time. He looks exactly like Heather and I felt the same way I feel about her the moment he hugged me (as soon as I walked in). There were three different types of desserts. I must have had ten glasses of wine.

Early in the night we huddled in the family room and shared about our lives. I talked about law school and teaching yoga. Patrick (her oldest) talked about college applications and how he’d never even consider going to UCLA. We talked about Buddhism and high school and the perils of being an accountant. We talked and laughed and loved each other. I felt home.

Later we feasted on delicious food. We drank more wine. Had more conversation.

When dinner and dessert were over we hugged each other and laughed some more. In all of the euphoria we found ourselves dancing in the entry way to the house, singing our hearts out.

I probably crawled into bed that night at 3a.m.

The abundance of that night was characteristic of every experience we’ve ever had together. Heather taught me what it means to live a full life. She does everything with full attention, full energy, full heart, full love. She shines as her fullest self in every moment. She shines and shines and shines.

She took days off of work to ski with her kids in Tahoe. During his senior year of high school she took her son to see his favorite band at Red Rocks because “why the hell wouldn’t I?!!!” She meditates, practices yoga and drinks good wine. She is a divine goddess of laughter and spirit.

She is a constant reminder to me that this moment is all I have, so I better rock it the fuck out.

Heather gave me many gifts: emotional, spiritual and material. But her greatest gifts of all are her lessons on how to be in my life. I am a better woman, friend, partner and human because of her. She will live forever in my heart.

10 years. 3 Words.

There’s a beautiful yoga teacher in Sacramento who just started to write a blog. I am completely addicted to it. She is honest and eloquent and funny and open. I love her, through it. She inspired this post with her own story: Ten years. Two Pages. Three-word sentences. Sounded impossible, so I gave it a shot.

Felt like adult. Fended for myself. Pressure to succeed. Hid my pain. Didn’t feel it. Ate practically nothing. Drank Diet Coke. Anger and Resentment. Applied to College. But just barely. Had people fooled. Thought so anyway. Met first love. Loved him quickly. He cherished me. I started eating. Still so angry. Didn’t acknowledge it. Left for school. Loved my freedom. Escaped my family. What a relief.

Found summer camp. Working with kids. Lit my life. Became a mentor. Met little Cindy. She was fast. She was energetic. She loved me. Loved her back. I felt joy. I felt valued. Blessed by community.

Brother got sober. Didn’t care much. Tired of that. Everything about him. Was still angry. Angry at him. Angry at parents. Didn’t know though. Thought I healed. Wanted to forget.

Joined Session Six. Unicamp was home. I made friends. I was loud. I was obnoxious. I laughed tons. I never cried. Mentorship Program Director. My life changed. I had responsibility. Learned organization skills. Learned management skills. Sucked at it. I hate sucking. It was hard. But also awesome. My beautiful committee. Talented and wise. They trusted me. I sucked less. I tried learning. I tried listening. Still hated sucking. Learned and grew. Ran a program. I did that. It was crazy. I never slept. I never ate. The good kind. I felt alive. I felt purposeful. I found myself. So I thought. Do we ever? I’m thinking no.  Love was glorious. Like the movies. Relationships are hard. I was vulnerable. I was open. Then it ended. My heart broke. I cried tons. More than ever. Then I stopped. For many years. Didn’t want to. Crying was weak. Crying was failure. Crying was miserable. Mentorship was hard. Missed my friends. Missed my support. Kept at it. Did my best. Was never enough. Hard on myself.

Lived in 203. With best friends. My beautiful heroines. Four extraordinary friends. Shared our secrets. Talked about life. Became women together. Learned to trust. Opened a little. Just to them. They were smart. They were funny. They were unconditional. Late nights laughing. Many dipped cones. Alice is brave. Sonya is artistic. Michelle is practical. Marni is unique. Me and Alice. Singing Lauryn Hill. In the car. Loud and louder. Hobbes and Guess. Best duo ever. Love that woman. My whole heart. Soul sister forever. Different and same. Learned from her. Loved with her. Anger at men. Anger at world. Anger all over. Feared getting hurt. Strong and stronger. Strength and power. Protect my heart.

Climbed a mountain. With our kids. Me and Alice. To the top. Shared with them. Cried with them. Laughed and hugged. Laughed so hard. Hugged So hard. Cried so hard. Most memorable week. My whole life. Changed me forever. Still remember them. Each of them. Special to me. In my heart. Me and Alice. Singing and sharing. Teaching and loving. Our fullest selves. Hiking through hail. Thunder and lightning. Holding one another. All of us. Like a family. A cherished memory.

Summer of 2006. Amy and Katie. Our journey together. No words explain. Could write paragraphs. What it meant. How it felt. Nothing like it. CHALOF is love.

Went to a yoga class. It was hard. I got strong. I liked that. Liked my arms. And my abs. And my butt. It was working. For those things.

Quarter Life Crisis. What to do? Who to be? Save the world. At least try. Work with kids. Make parents proud. Not sure how. Struggle with everything.

Then Gobbie’s accident. Everything is chaos. My parents cry. My parents fight. My brother helpless. My brother broken. My heart broken. Devastating us again. Everyone is sad. But nobody speaks. It is fine. He is fine. We are fine. Nobody’s fine.

Tried Outdoor Education. Sassed my boss. Dated a lesbian. Knew it all. In your face. In everyone’s face. Didn’t work out. What to do? Who to be? Still didn’t know.

Moved to Sacramento. Felt like failure. Still hated sucking. I felt lonely. Especially at first. Did more yoga. And even more. Felt like addiction. The good kind. Sweating and twisting. Oming and chanting. Deeper and deeper. Started to listen. Finally heard lessons. Liked the stories. Connected to dharma. Found a teacher. Taken by AMK. Her intense energy. Felt like mine. She could relate. I could relate. We knew eachother. We were eachother. Wanted to teach. Spread the yoga. Did teacher training. Resisted it all. Didn’t ever cry. Didn’t open up. Laughed and joked. Put on show.

Back to School. Be a Lawyer. Make some money. Have more power. Make parents proud. Meet everyone’s expectations. But who’s everyone? Felt totally lost. Confused and Sad. Missed my job. Got big ego. Mean to everyone. Got good grades. Still felt bad.

Quit teaching yoga. I wasn’t ready. Needed to work. Work on myself. On my mat. Started listening again. Open your heart. Be more vulnerable. Didn’t know how.

The Final Voyage. Opened my heart. I felt changed. Resisted it ending. Held on tight. Fear and sadness. Joy and hope. CHALOF is family. In my heart. All the memories. So much love.

Left for L.A. A new adventure. Scared and excited. Held Amy tight. Transition is scary. Change is hard. Spent time alone. Sitting with myself. Yoga was hard. Loneliness was hard. Started to cry. I felt relieved. Cried some more. Missed my friends. Missed my life. Missed my community. Missed my mom. Missed my identity. Started to breakdown. But then, breakthrough. Heather got sick. Cried for days. Decided to love. To love everyone. To love hard. Channeled her energy. Felt her spirit. I felt changed.

Not so angry. Tapped into softness. Grew out my hair. Started to listen. Tried being nice. Nice felt good. Started to meditate. Tried gratitude practice. Wrote in journal. It was working.

Maybe teach Kindergarten. Be a lawyer. Run a camp. Just run away. Be a lawyer. Grown up life. Happiness and Expectations. Happiness and Money. Happiness and soul. Happiness and love. Sorting it out. Practice and practice. Try and open. Patience and curiosity. My greatest challenges. Give up fighting. Give in gently. Meet some resistance. But keep trying.

Early Expectations

I want to write a blog where I reflect daily about something interesting/bizarre/heart-warming/thought-provoking that happens. I want to write every day. I want each post to be eloquent, insightful, inspiring, funny and honest. I want to show myself.

I’ve started two other blogs with similar expectations (here and here). I set out to change the world, one powerful post at a time. When I struggle to finish posts (and my only reader is my mom) I get discouraged, then distracted, and ultimately my motivation to keep writing disappears.

I watch more tv.

I go on Facebook.

I have daily reflections about interesting/bizarre/heart-warming/thought-provoking things that happen. Sometimes I share them with my friends.

I dream about writing a blog.

The more I dream, the more my expectations become elaborate and specific: I will write every day. It will be eloquent, insightful, inspiring, funny and honest. I will show myself.

When I can’t possibly contain myself any more, I start a blog.

I have a yoga teacher who frequently uses the phrase: “Try to be curious without getting attached to a particular outcome.”

I am the worst at this.

I don’t want to do anything unless I know EXACTLY how it’s going to turn out. I start everything with a long list of outcomes (see above). I rarely venture into the unknown.

As soon as something I’ve started looks different than my initial plan, I want to quit. Turn around. Disengage. Break-Up. Drop-Out.

I miss one day of blogging and it feels like failure.

I sometimes wonder how to differentiate between: setting goals and attaching to expectations; purposeful action and obsessive-compulsion; letting go and giving up. I struggle to balance my desire to be fluid and flexible with my desire to be productive and critical.

Today, I’ll publish this post on my new blog. Tomorrow I’ll judge myself for not having anything important to write. The next day I’ll wonder if I should just give up, and the cycle will continue.

I will use this space to struggle with pushing past my early expectations. To confront things I didn’t anticipate and learn to sit with them, feel them out. I will try to learn, listen and understand.

I will try to keep writing.