Personal Note: Answering All Your Questions

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After 18 months in NYC, I’ve returned to DC for the rest of my life. I moved about a week ago and ever since have been fielding DMs of ‘why?’ and more specific questions. Walking the line between personal privacy and wanting to keep you all in the know, here’s what I’ll say: There were a lot of new things in my life that led to this decision. A new career, new people, new passions. Above all, I spent the first half of 2020 digesting all the lessons of 2019. Losing so many family members over the course of nine months, living so far from my family, feeling guilty, feeling helpless, changing careers, made for an eventful, albeit rather dark, 2019. Digging into all of these teachings I came to the same conclusion over and over: my heart is in DC. I made the decision, for me, to leave my relationship and start a new chapter in a new [old] city. I spent more than five years living in DC before the move to NYC and it will always feel like home. The words sound rather clichéd and disingenuous, but the truth of it is that in the past few months, and especially past week, I really feel that I’ve reconnected with myself. Out of respect and excitement for everything that’s to come I’ve decided to take a step back from the daily IG life (many of you’ve already noticed this). This isn’t goodbye, we’ll speak soon — especially on the blog. With love, Molly

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On July 28th, I published the above IG post. At the time I had just moved 250 miles from New York City to Washington, DC, a city I had previously lived in for five years. Ending my engagement, moving cities, starting a new relationship, has all played out in seemingly rapid succession over Instagram and has led to many timeline-related and “Wait… what?” style questions in my DMs and (most recently) asked through Stories.

While I believe and have believed that you truly don’t owe an explanation of your life and choices to anyone, what I do believe is that many of you sincerely care and gaps in what I’ve shared has left you feeling confused. So here’s the full story:

  • I ended my engagement [and relationship] shortly after it began. It was the right move for me and the right move for him.
  • At that time I was already intending to move to DC for a short period of time (August-October) to attend to private doula clients. Ending that relationship made me intensely question why I was living in New York City and if it was making me happy. I ultimately determined that being so far from my family over the previous year had taken a deeper toll than I initially realized and by May was making long-term plans to permanently return to DC. As many of you may remember, I have been talking about moving to DC since Summer 2019.
  • I decided, with my ex-fiancé, that the cats would remain in New York City with him to avoid causing them emotional strife of a move (moving them to NYC was difficult for them).
  • In early July, I learned that my DC apartment had fallen through, two weeks before I was scheduled to move and physically needed to be in the city to support my doula clients. I was offered the opportunity to temporarily move in with someone I had known as a friend for years and been dating for a few weeks.
  • We both quickly found that what was intended to be “just for a week or so” felt a lot more like forever so I stopped looking for another apartment, rented a U-Haul, and before the end of July was officially moved in.

I did what I have been advising you all to do for years: I did what was best for me. Clichéd as it may seem, I followed my heart.

In March I stopped the most popular series on the blog, Dear Molly, purely because I slowly felt myself becoming the thing I loathe most of all: a hypocrite. How could I write each week, telling you all to be brave and honest and bold while I played it safe? At the time I was deeply struggling in my own relationship, with myself and then partner, and while I got pretty good at putting on a happy face I knew I couldn’t do it forever.

Leaving my relationship and New York City, and all the details that came with those choices, have made me feel more like myself than ever. Part of why I didn’t write on here for so long is the same reason that I took a hiatus from Instagram, I want to protect that feeling. I don’t personally feel that I’ve ever had a terribly filtered online persona, but I do think that the mindset I get into when I log on is one that I’ve cultivated to be positive. I want to continue to be the positive place you all love to come, but I don’t want to continue sacrificing the reality of my life along the way.

So what does that mean? Simply this: when I need “me” time, I’m taking it.

Quarantine: Day 80

It’s been a minute… unintentional, but still incredibly long since I was on here. It feels like life is moving at a glacial pace and somehow big changes are happening every day, hour, minute. Most of those changes I’m not ready to share here, but it feels good to know the world is continuing to move. It reminds me of my time as a white-water instructor. While the surface may look calm, you never know what’s underneath and while I don’t envision being swept up in my own undertow it can feel like that at times.

How many emotions and feelings are tied to quarantine and how many have been there the whole time. Is quarantine the cause or is it a magnifying glass? I don’t believe emotions are ever born of nothing. It’s never a fight about the dishes, it’s about not feeling supported as a whole. It’s not a fight about your boyfriend having “too many” female friends, it’s about you not feeling secure and loved in your relationship. There’s always a deeper level and I push myself to continuously dig into introspection.

As someone with a slightly impulsive personality (read: all my tattoos are born of less than 5 hours of forethought) the slower pace of decision making, learning to respond instead of reacting, has felt like the softest bed to land on. Being on the verge of steps I’ve been considering for over a year has left me with some feelings of impatience, but also an immense comfort. I know what I’m doing and I’m happy to do it. Big decisions are never easy, but often are the ones that define our lives.

I spent the past year weighing the thoughts of everyone around me and using this ‘research’ to influence and maybe even determine how I felt about a situation. When your family and circle of friends say one thing it can feel like swimming upstream to choose a different path. And may even put you in the line of fire of the people you trust and love the most. Learning to prioritize my own voice, heart, and wants has made all the difference. It’s my life to live and I cannot spend it thinking of the needs of others (I’ll have plenty of that to do when I’m a mother, right?).

You cannot base your emotions on the emotions of others. You cannot live your life to make someone else happy. Your emotions are valid and honest and real. They are never an “over-emotion” because they are exactly what they are, mean, and feel to you. Embrace them, reflect on them, challenge them, and accept them.

Quarantine: Day 65

Paragraph: Written.

Paragraph: Deleted.

Wash.

Rinse.

Repeat.

That’s been the feeling lately. I usually keep personal frustrations and struggles off of the blog until I feel like I have some clarity. Mostly because I don’t want this to become a space where I lament and you all listen, like some egalitarian therapist office. That’s not the purpose of this blog, it’s not a record of my personal growth (although, in many ways it’s similar).

I’ve spoken about my anxiety on here before and … truly I don’t know where that sentence was going. And that’s really frustrating for me. Quarantine has made me feel more and more like I’m in a box. Being literally confined to a small space has made my mind feel the same way. I wish I had a big revelation to share with you. I wish there was a magic number of sourdough loaves I could bake or miles I could run to make myself feel better. Maybe there is. Maybe that number is too large to be feasible. Maybe it’s this city. Maybe city-living has become too much for this country girl. Maybe it’s love. Maybe it’s strained friendships.

Lately, I’ve found myself being the support person for everyone around me and it’s made me feel like I can’t actually be upset about quarantine or personal questions and struggles I’m having. I have friends going through break-ups that I want to be there for, so how can I go to them for my own support? Through my attempts to be positive, it feels like I’ve excluded myself from the ability to share a lot of the feelings I’ve been feeling, deeply.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a checklist that you could scroll through, answer yes or no to each item, and receive the perfect path to take? Wouldn’t it be nice if you could turn off questions or emotions that you don’t like coming up? But as a human and not a computer program we don’t have that ability. I almost wrote “we don’t have that luxury” but what a gross sentence. To view our struggles, free will, options, and opportunities as a burden?

It seems that every time I think I’ve hit the low of the quarantine, another low comes along. I’m not sure exactly what it was about today, but my mood just would not click. I worked out, I went on a long walk in the fresh air (breathed through a mask, of course), made coffee, made breakfast, made lunch, cleaned the apartment. And still, just felt like a dud. I felt frustrated and petulant, frenetic and exhausted, everything was off. Quarantine and so much time in a box have a weird way of making you feel safe and vulnerable all at once. Both suffocated and lonely.

This is one of the weird rides I have ever been on and it continues to get weirder and more difficult.

On My Mind: Laying the Foundation

 

I’m a homesteader at heart. From scratch baking and cooking is more than just my favorite afternoon activity, it’s in my blood. I grew up with parents who cultivating our property, took us fresh fruit picking as a weekend trip, and who canned tomatoes, jammed berries, and lived their lives with a ‘from scratch’ mentality. Everything, from our Christmas trees to early-summer asparagus, came from our backyard. I certainly didn’t appreciate it near enough then (what child does?) but I had the most privileged, endearing, picturesque childhood, growing up on 10 acres in rural Maryland.

Unfortunately, I have a conflict of the heart, I’m in love with New York City. The bustling nature of it, the anonymity, the midnight Chinese food, I love it all. Growing up from a town where I was always ‘one of those Shephards’ and being introverted makes NYC all the more attractive to me. Somewhere to blend in and live my life in peace, which is ironic considering the volume outside my window as I write this.

But I have a dream of passing down a shade of the childhood I had to my children. I want them to know what fresh produce looks like, I want them to know where it comes from, I want them to know that carrots have tops and don’t come precut in ‘baby’ size. I want them to learn the patience I learned of freezing fresh berries in summer so that someday, months in the future, in the depth of winter, we could have a fresh berry pie. I want them to know that food changes with the season and to respect that. I want them to live in a nourishing way.

 

me, far right, with my older brother and sister.

 

I have a dream of having a massive kitchen and lining the shelves with canned vegetables, pickles, homemade jams, and raising little ones on farmer’s markets, herb gardens, and a love for whole foods. While my current kitchen is more of a kitchen/living room/dining room I decided to start this trajectory several months ago, when I adopted breadmaking into my life. Two sourdough starters are now my pseudo-children and hopefully, a living heirloom to pass down generation to generation. Starters are made from and are a product of the wild yeast and bacteria in the air. Meaning, that my starter will have an origin story of this tiny apartment, this little five-floor walkup, this first home.

Checking In: Ready for Spring

 

For the past several weeks my Pinterest has become more and more of a solace to me. A place to ignore the dropping temperatures outside and focus on cultivating a very warm feeling inside. I’m filling my thoughts with woven totes, linen dresses, airy morning light, and menus planned around soon-to-be-in-season vegetables. Thoughts of long walks at sunset, cool blue-grey mornings, and coffee sipped on a balcony. Thoughts of peace, calm, and allowing current frustrations to give way to relaxation.

Personally, this self-manifested warmth has done more than help shake the winter blues, it’s giving me a clearer focus point. A vision, a goal to concentrate on as I look forward months ahead. A handful of months ago, I found myself continually, and thanklessly, helping others in an unsustainable way. In truth, it has been a huge growth experience for my patience and capacity for generosity. Introspectively, it’s raised the question of whether it’s my ego taking over or if certain things are something that I could be validly upset over.

My teacher often reminds me of jalandhara bandha, the web that rests over our hearts. In her words, “This is why we do our best to cultivate loving thoughts. They flow from your head down to your heart, getting caught in the web.” Over the past few weeks, I’ve used this mindset on a daily basis to attempt to set my ego aside and cultivate loving thoughts. I definitely don’t enjoy having negative or upsetting thoughts. They tend to burrow themselves deep in my anxiety, affecting my sleeping, my eating, and the way I move through the world. It’s a difficult line to walk between being true to yourself, speaking about the ways you were hurt, or staying silent to preserve an apparent peace. So which is the right path?

I don’t have the answer, but what I’ve found throughout my entire life is that cultivating loving thoughts does not harm. One of my biggest pieces of relationship advice (romantic or otherwise) is simply this: be generous with forgiveness. There’s nothing that can persist when love, generosity, and forgiveness work together. I’ve added in the glowy imagery of a fast-approaching spring and granted myself a little distance from what was causing me stress.

A step backward, and yet a leap forwards.

 

xx, M

 

Personal Note: political views

{2017 Women’s March}

 

For my 100th article (!!!), I wanted to touch base about a recently received Instagram DM that asked told me to “stop talking about politics”, with the threat that they would unfollow me if I didn’t. I politely wrote back this:

Hi, thanks for letting me know how you feel. After considering your request I’ve decided that I will continue to post “political” things.  To suggest that I bury my head in the sand or abstain from using the small platform I have for good is simply not something I will do. I’m glad you think my page is “fun”, but my ability to choose to separate the “fun” in my life from the real struggle and oppression of others, comes solely from a place of privilege and I refuse to exercise that privilege. I hope you continue to stay and join the conversation.

I haven’t checked, but I’m going to assume they unfollowed me.

I’m not shy about how I feel, politically or otherwise, and I have a personal history of activism, protesting, writing to senators, and publishing political pieces. I never considered keeping that piece of my life separate from the blog. How could I? How could I look at this opportunity to share a new viewpoint with someone, let someone know that they aren’t alone, let someone know that they have an ally? Would you?

This person who wrote to me is not the first, and they often say the same things about my “liberal agenda”. What’s interesting to me is that I don’t think of this as me having an “agenda”, I certainly don’t think of it as partisan, and to be honest, I don’t even think of them as political issues. Yes, there are issues that we need to resolve through legislation, but so many of these issues are human rights issues. Access to affordable healthcare, the right to choose what happens to my body, the right to seek asylum without being separated from your children, the right to speak out without fear of retribution from your government, these aren’t the rights of a US citizen, these are the rights of all humans. Everyone deserves these rights.

I don’t know what else I can say about it besides the fact that I will not be stopping.

On Reflection: The Long and Short of It {my hair}

 

Short.

Light.

Dark.

Blonde.

Long black.

 

No, it’s not how I take my coffee. It’s what I’ve done to my hair over my 20 plus year history of fighting and eventually succumbing to embracing its natural form.

Fiery red. Growing up I always had very long, shiny, baby blonde hair, but when I was 11 I got the notion the red hair was the ideal form. I lusted over auburn locks and wanted them so badly for myself. After a year of begging, my mom let me indulge this want with a box of temporary hair color. I was hooked instantly. I loved it, but as many of you probably know, temporary hair color (particularly red) doesn’t fade beautifully and so began a cycle of dying, chopping, and growing out that lasted over a decade.

Dark brown. In high school, I dyed my hair a rich dark brown as an effort to reclaim my natural color and cover up the highlights earned from hours of running in the sun. I adopted the idea that my highlights made me look younger than I was and in an effort to look grown I covered them. Layer after layer of glossy dark brown dye gave me a deep, nearly black hair color that I kept until college.

Short & black. After my first year of college, I chopped off ten inches a wore a short dark bob. It was about as different as my hair had ever been. I think it was part of a desire to distinguish myself from the high school person I used to be. A lot of people’s college experiences are marked with all the places they drew a line in the sand and said “this is who I am”. A lot of my early time at college was spent trying to distance myself from my country roots. I had a list of reasons a mile long for doing so, none of which seem to hold any weight today.

 

Natural. When I started a new relationship in 2014 I stopped running. Stopped running from my roots, from my passions, from who I naturally was. My hair got long and the dye washed out. My natural highlights returned, a little brassier than their natural blonde, and my curl pattern started to form again. I focused less on my appearance than I had in years and I embraced a natural “me”. I washed my hair with baking soda and vinegar, spent my days working at a yoga shop and taking long Ashtanga practice every morning.

 

Blonde. In early 2015 the desire to dye my hair again came back, from a place of play. I wanted to try something new, something I never had before. Going lighter instead of darker. I had always been taught that dying your hair darker is adding color and therefore healthier than bleaching or stripping out color. This is why for so long I was terrified to go blonde, despite wanting to try it out. I took the plunge through a series of full highlight treatments over several months which gave me a very natural blonde (I had a lot of new acquaintances believing I was a natural blonde).

 

Bob. The unexpected haircut. As I grew out my blonde toward the end of 2016 I decided to go for a chop (up to my shoulder) to get off a lot of the length and let my natural hair grow back. When I left the salon she had cut my hair the shortest it ever was, up to my jaw. It was like losing my crown. It made me really evaluate my ego and where I kept it. Even five months after the chop (below) my hair was still much shorter than I was comfortable with, although the color was returning to my natural hue.

 

Natural. Today I’ve fully embraced my natural hair. It’s low maintenance, I cut it myself, I flip my part from the left to the right. I keep it long enough to not need hair ties (I just tied all the length into a knot). I don’t have to worry about fading as I did with my dark & short, I don’t worry about it drying out as I did with my blonde, I don’t worry about it curling up too much as I did with my bob. It feels like me, no mess, no fuss.

 

I think the big thing here is how important hair can be and how much it can change how you express yourself or process aspects of your life. Everyone should be free to embrace their natural hair or not, it’s their choice. No hair is unprofessional, no hair is superior. Everyone’s hair and aesthetic is unique and everyone should have the freedom to experiment and embrace the style they want to.

2020 Reading List

 

I’d like to use this year for a little reading repertoire housekeeping. Over lunch with a friend a few weeks back I divulged a great secret of mine: I’ve never read Faulkner. I’ll admit, I pride myself on having a thorough knowledge of the classics. However, the expression on her face showed how much I was missing. A quick review of my previous reads and I was convinced, I’m missing too many of the greats.

So in 2020, to kick off a decade, I want to either read or reread* many of the classics that have shaped modern writers. Off to a good start, I began Crime and Punishment on January second and am a little over halfway through. One nearly down, many to go. So here is my tentative list of novels to read this year.

 

+ Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky Considered the first great novel of his “mature” period of writing, it focuses on the mental anguish and moral dilemmas of an impoverished ex-student in Saint Petersburg who formulates a plan to kill an unscrupulous pawnbroker for her money.

+ The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner Divided into four sections told from four different perspectives, the book is both a notoriously arduous and disturbing read, whose often disorienting narration requires patience and persistence, and whose subject matter confronts painful themes, among which reside incest and suicide. A true tale of endurance and human suffering which will stay with readers for a very long time indeed.

+ As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner The author’s strongest display of the stream-of-consciousness narrative and is ranked 35th in the Modern Library’s 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century no less.

+ Play It As It Lays: A Novel by Joan Didion “Simple, restrained, intelligent, well-structured, witty, irresistibly relentless, forthright in diction, and untainted by the sensational, Play It As It Lays is a book of outstanding literary quality.” ―Library Journal

+ The White Album by Joan Didion A 1979 book of essays by Joan Didion. The subjects of the essays range widely and represent a mixture of memoir, criticism, and journalism, focusing on the history and politics of California in the late 1960s and early 70s.

+ The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger* Between 1961 and 1982, The Catcher in the Rye was the most censored book in high schools and libraries in the United States for its themes of angst and alienation, and as a critique on superficiality in society.

+ The Deer Park by Norman Mailer “A writer of the greatest and most reckless talent . . . [Mailer] drives us up and down The Deer Park at breakneck speed. It is a trip through unfamiliar country, for a time funny and then unnerving.” —The New Yorker

+ Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston* It is considered a classic of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, and it is likely Hurston’s best known work, following the life of Janie Crawford as she tries to discover herself through a series of marriages. The book is deeply moving as it confronts issues of female identity with the linguistic richness of 1930s Florida.

+ The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath A deep penetration into the darkest and most harrowing corners of the human psyche, it is an extraordinary accomplishment and a haunting American classic.

+ Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut An American classic, is one of the world’s great antiwar books. Centering on the infamous firebombing of Dresden, Billy Pilgrim’s odyssey through time reflects the mythic journey of our own fractured lives as we search for meaning in what we fear most.

+ Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury Set in a dystopian future where literature (and all original thought) is on the brink of extinction.

+ The Jungle by Upton Sinclair* The book galvanized public opinion and led to a forced government investigation that eventually caused the passage of pure food laws. Today, it’s often referenced in response to poor working conditions and food safety laws.

+ The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway* 1926 novel portraying American and British expatriates who travel from Paris to the Festival of San Fermín in Pamplona to watch the running of the bulls and the bullfights.

+ Hiroshima by John Hersey 1946 piece exploring how six survivors experienced the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan, and its aftermath.

+ One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey Set in an Oregon psychiatric hospital, the narrative serves as a study of institutional processes and the human mind as well as a critique of behaviorism and a tribute to individualistic principles.

+ I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou A powerful American classic that tells of her struggles growing up during the Great Depression, and the abuse she suffered.

+ Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller* 1949 stage play, it won the 1949 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Tony Award for Best Play. It is widely considered to be one of the greatest plays of the 20th century.

+ On the Road by Jack Kerouac A defining work of the postwar “Beat” culture and both a physical and spiritual journey of the narrator who tries to find meaning in his life through his friends, lovers, and adventures around the U.S.

+ The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper*At the time of Cooper’s writing, U.S. settlers believed in, and perpetrated the myth that, Native Americans were disappearing, believing they would ultimately be assimilated or killed off entirely due to the genocidal structure of settler colonialism. This allowed settlers to view themselves as the original people of the land and reinforced their belief in scientific racism and European ethnic and racial superiority. 

+ Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand* A fictional dystopian United States where all the world’s movers and shakers have abandoned society, leaving the world and the remaining people in a state of flux. 

+ Walden by Henry David Thoreau* One man’s autobiographical attempt to find simplicity, self-reliance, and peace through solitude and nature.

 

Personal Note: a sacred pause

Earlier this week I started fully processing the grief that has been piling up in me over the past year. A combination of losing so many people, who mean so much to me, manifested itself into an anxiety attack, my first in several years. As I came down from the attack a friend gave me the gentle nudge I needed.

“Maybe you should start meditating.”

I think in the age of Lululemon-esque, green juice, neo-spiritualism “meditating” is a practice that gets thrown around a lot. At times it can seem like a default response for “I don’t know how to support your mental health right now”. But, you see, I have a degree in an East Asian philosophy, one that consisted of studying the  Shōbōgenzō, following the teachings of  Thích Nhất Hạnh, and meditating regularly. Meditation and yoga were both in my daily repertoire until two to three years ago. This gentle nudge was a nudge not into something new, not into a catch-all formulaic response, but back into my center. Back into my homeostasis.

The next day I drafted a potential new blog post. A few of the notes I jotted down for myself: yin yoga, daily meditation, journaling, breathwork, psychologist visits. Each came with a question mark. A C-curve and a dot that was the text version of the “Will this actually work?” question that I had been asking myself since I first knew I was off-kilter. As I scrawled into my journal that night I asked the universe for some sign or path, something to help me with the first step.

Tuesday morning brought that sign I was looking for. An Alchemy Workshop put on by 3rd Ritual, a Taoist meditation company that I’d met a few months prior, was being advertised on the founder’s Instagram. It was described as a “brain bath” and Jenn, the founder of 3rd Ritual, had one guest spot left. I messaged her immediately and got the last spot. It felt like a perfect answer to the question I had been quietly asking myself for weeks.

One of the first things Jenn said was that this ritual was a “sacred pause”. The phrase hit me like an earthquake. I haven’t been taking a single pause in the past year, out of an unconscious fear of the emotions that can come in the slow moments. After an introduction to the space and practice, we all took a few breaths together during a short meditation and then introduced ourselves, sharing our name and something we have that we didn’t have last year. I immediately had two thoughts, one easy and one honest. The easy answer is the ability to make things, specifically my new sourdough fixation, but I chose to share the honest answer: grief. This past year taught me what it is to truly experience genuine loss. Not the loss of a job or relationship, but the real and raw loss of someone you love. After introductions, it was time for the ritual.

The ritual itself was divided into three parts, each addressing a different facet of ourselves. The body, the mind, and the spirit.

 

our alter for The Ritual

 

We addressed the body through a gentle yin yoga flow, repeating postures evenly on the left and right. When I was regularly practicing yoga, under the very energetic and dynamic Ashtanga style, I was bending myself into pretzels and balancing on my forearms with ease. But it has been a long time since I practiced and the challenge presented with adho mukha svanasana was humbling. It also forced me to focus deeply on my physical body and anchored me to the “here and now” of the ritual.

Moving onto the mind we did a writing exercise, based on “looking in the rearview mirror”. Starting with a “Less” column we wrote out all the things we had experienced in the past year (or several years) that we wanted less of in the future. I wrote several things, but the two that jumped out to me are “Guilt, Self-Blame” and “Avoidance, Hiding Tough Emotions”. Moving 200 miles from my family at the start of 2019, just a couple months after we received two stage four diagnoses, has weighed on me for the past year. At the same time as processing this self-blame and guilt over the move, I’ve been hiding a lot of these emotions. From others and from myself. As my family lost people this year I tried to remain stoic, knowing that we likely had more loss just a few months away. In an effort to protect myself from grief I hid from truly feeling. I want less of that. Less of postponing how I feel to make others comfortable or out of a personal fear of feeling raw emotions. To close the “Less” column we closed our eyes, filled with as much breath as we could, and released the “Less” through several, group-wide deep exhales. The only word to describe it: cathartic.

The second piece of addressing the mind was creating a “More” column, based not on all our wants from the future, but again informed by our past experiences. This list was evenly as long as my my “Less” column, but more centering to write. “Journaling, Tidyness Throughout the home, Introspection, Allowing Myself to Feel”.  My favorite one, the one that first came to my mind, is “museum days”. One of my absolute favorite things to do with him, and something we’ve been doing since our first few months of dating (when we were too broke to do anything else we would spend afternoons taking advantage of DC’s free museums). It’s one of the things that makes me feel most full in our relationship. Other things were centered around what keeps me calm and relaxed, a large focus of mine lately.

 

 

The final third of the ritual was dedicated to the spirit, caring for it with a free-flowing painting session. Starting with a center dot, representing each of us, we filled in the surrounding space with all the things we want to keep close to us. Friends and family, goals, hopes, anything. The gentle chime of 3rd Ritual’s Bel drew the ritual to an end.

We closed with savasanaaromatherapy, and a Jenn gently speaking through the parable of the two travelers.

After the workshop last night I wouldn’t say I felt healed, but that wasn’t the point. What I did feel is radically changed. Like a few of the grains of the mountain that’s been weighing me down had been lifted. Last night was the first step I had been asking for. It truly was a sacred pause from all the buzzing that’s been going on in my head lately and a beautiful way to welcome me back to myself and have a moment of calm.

On Reflection: My Year In Books 2019

 

This year was one of the toughest I’ve had, ever. Stepping through each month, week, day presented new challenges and I found myself drawn back to reading as an escape. I was always a big reader as a kid. I was the stay up till 3 am to finish a good story or read Lord of the Rings in a weekend. On family vacations, I would pack two or three novels to keep myself occupied.

I’m not sure I can pinpoint exactly when I stopped reading, but I would guess it was sometime in college when the task of reading over 200 philosophical pages a week crowded out my ability or want of leisure reading. For something that used to come so natural to me, it was hard to pick up after graduation. For a while, I thought of reading as just another casualty of my busy life, but this year I wanted to prioritize it. I constructed a list of all the books I wanted to read in 2019 and aimed to keep to it. The first few months weren’t terribly successful, but as my year grew more tumultuous I found myself drawn back to the solace of a good read. While I didn’t read all of them, I did read quite a few on that list and ended up branching into a few more.

 

+ The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan

+ Emotional Intelligence: Resilience by Harvard Business Review

+ Rising Strong by Brené Brown

+ A Beautiful Composition of Broken by R. H. Sin

+ It’s OK That You’re Not OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand by Megan Devine

+ Women in the Wild by Lucy McCauley

+ Healing Pluto Problems by Donna Cunningham

+ Come as You Are by Emily Nagoski

+ The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir

 

I also took some time this year to reconnect with my love of LOTR and reread several of my favorites, namely: The Two Towers. While most of my reading this year focused on emotional development and personal growth, I did find that reading something for enjoyment alone was time beautifully spent. Obvious as that sounds, and is, I tend to have a very utilitarian look on the world and ask myself “How is this pushing me? Helping me? Furthering me?”. Losing so many close family members this year really pushed me to slow down and step back from the ‘hustle’ so many twenty-somethings are encouraged to have.

I’ve happily moved at a slower pace this year and focused on the things that are most important to me. I’ve traveled home as much as possible to see family. I’ve stepped into a new intensity within my sport. I’ve adopted new hobbies and passions. And I’ve read for enjoyment alone.