Archive | self-health

Listen, Are You Breathing Just a Little, and Calling it a Life?

I have been carrying around a line from the Mary Oliver poem, “Have You Ever Tried to Enter the Long Black Branches.”

One of my favorite yoga instructors read a bit of this poem at the end of class and a line has resonated within me for months. It became the title of a blog post that sat unwritten for just as long and today I answered Ms. Oliver’s question with a resounding


Lately, I am breathing deeply, breathing into my body, breathing into home but most importantly, I am breathing into friendship and connection.

There was a time in my life, when I thought I couldn’t make new friends. I lived in a story that said my world would remain tiny because what I had to offer was meager and unimportant. I thought that if I slipped out of the room, no one would notice and there was such sadness in me because more than anything what I wanted was connection and friendship.

Then one day I made a simple phone call.

I had been reading through the archives of blog I had just begun to read and there was this offer for a free portrait session with the blogger. All I had to do was call and arrange a time. I impulsively dialed the number and then there were arrangements, there was a portrait session and now there is this friend. The thing about it was that she was unlike anyone else I had known in my life and I worried that I did not have much to offer in return.  Looking back, I was incredibly intimidated but I wanted connection more than I wanted to run and hide.

The thing about wanting is that wanting makes you vulnerable, it makes the connection matter and sometimes, when something matters, it is so easy to hold back, to hide, for fear that the story of meagerness is true.

Sometimes I wonder how she saw me in the beginning but realize that it really doesn’t matter because now we are friends. The beginning don’t matter after awhile because it is the middle, the guts, the heart of the story that holds the promise.

Inspired by that phone call and our deepening connection, I have leapt, I have tossed, I have pushed and shoved myself into many new places and circumstances. Slowly I am prying open the bars around my heart, creating a space large enough to let myself be fully seen and in return I shattered my story and have befriended so many amazing people who I am proud, humble and grateful to call friend. Today, after a phone call with five nurturing souls who have come together expressly to become a soft place to land for one another, I look around and notice that I am no longer breathing just a little, but instead stand with my head thrown back, arms wide open, lungs filling to capacity and claiming this as my life.

So to all of the beautiful souls in my life, to each and every one of you who I have yet to meet and particularly to that friend who asked me to make a phone call and who gives me such gifts, including the sweetest surprise ever

For Valerie from Kate Swoboda on Vimeo.

I humbly say thank you, thank you for seeing me.

Transition in Grace

I don’t do endings.

I never write to the last page of my journal. I tend to not end toxic relationships, instead choosing to be the one to stay far beyond reason and understanding, until they leave. Sometimes I stop reading a book I really love, putting it aside because…

I simply don’t ever want it to end.

Last fall, I enrolled in an intense 10-month counseling training program at the Interchange Counseling Institute. Having entered the experience with no idea of what to expect, I was at the end, the final weekend, standing stronger, more grounded in who I am, having fallen in love with my body and having opened myself up more than I knew was possible. Now all of that is well and good but it had to end.

Everything ends.

I entered the space with guard up having already begun retreating on an emotional level. My mind already half way gone, I positioned myself near the door and tensely waited for the end. I did not know it at the time but I longed for closure. If you would have asked me on Saturday if that was what I was hoping for I would have told you no. I would have said I was ready for it to be over, I was ready to move on to the next experience, the next thing. Sure, sure, it was life changing, and ground shifting, sending tremors through my life, changing me like no other experience ever has. I would have admitted that freely but I couldn’t have claimed my need for closure because I did not leave a crack wide enough to know what I truly needed.

But the funny thing is that my heart knew better.

It allowed me to look around at the room, at the faces that I have cried with and laughed with and felt incredibly awkward with. The arms that hugged and held me, the bodies that supported me, the smiles and genuineness that welcomed me in without reservation and much to my surprise I discovered that there is incredible power in fully embracing the experience when it is time to leave.

Early leave taking was, for me, about protecting myself from “the hurt.” Growing up as a military kid, there were always endings, someone was always moving and I did not have any way to transition with grace so I decided to not transition at all. I learned to retreat back into my own world before “the hurt” swallowed me whole.

I have not been swallowed whole but I have been made whole.

Yesterday’s ending was so incredibly lovely. My ever softening heart took in these beautiful faces I have grown to love as we appreciated each other one by one, as we held hands and hugged and full on acknowledged that what we had all had part in creating was at it’s natural and inevitable end. We did it and then it was simply over. We left the space together and had a group dinner, all of us happily wedged into this tiny Ethiopian restaurant, laughing, breaking bread and then one by one, people said their goodbyes and left and it was done.

The end.

Make New Friends and Keep the Old

So I think that I have made a new friend…

Well, she isn’t exactly new since she has been in my life for as long as I can remember. When we were younger, I think that we were pretty inseparable, two peas in a pod, all for one and one for all, but somehow, somewhere along the way distance crept in.  Though junior high and high school, dealing new and mysterious hormones, and boys filling up all the space in my mind I allowed my friend to sort of slip away.

Honestly, and I hate to admit it, but I did not even notice and I really did not miss her that much. She was always around, always on the periphery (she is much more loyal and committed than I probably deserve), always supporting me in the small ways that I would allow but we were definitely not close. We were acquaintances but I surely won’t claim that we were friends. That is until recently. Recently, I got back in touch with her. I can’t say that there was one specific thing that brought us back to one another but the moment I saw her, I mean really saw her, I realized how much I had missed her and promised us both to cherish the relationship and give it the time and energy and focus that it deserved.

This old friend… it is my body.

My word for 2011 is home. The word chose me, mostly out of self preservation, as I had been doing too much, taking on too much, traveling, studying, creating a business, creating a beautiful but overwhelming life. Inhabiting the word home has proved to be a way to slow down, to integrate, to sink into each moment and to breathe. Six months into the year and into the word, I find that it is more deeply rooted and all about reconnecting to my body, my temple, my home.

At the moment, we are really just at the threshold, the beginning of our reintroduction. Neither of us are the same as we were when we would earn Girl Scout badges or jump on the bike to get lost in daylong summer adventures or when we put on that royal blue sparkling sequined tutu and danced onstage. We are both a bit older, we are both a bit slower, but like the old days we easily slip back into being inseparable, two peas in a pod and it has been magic getting to know one another.

I am diving into her, asking questions and remaining patient as I listen for answers and opening to all that I am discovering.

So far? I see that she is happiest when she is vegetarian(who knew?), she currently loves middle eastern music and learning to shimmy in our new belly dance class.  She sinks into yoga like nothing else and fills her soul from the quiet solitude of meditation. She adores a physical challenge but can complain and worry in the face of something new. She always finds that she is much stronger than she give herself credit for. Her daily uniform often includes clunky big black boots (preferably with a dress) and she never feels more feminine than when she has just gotten a haircut that is just a tad too short.

There is much to catch up on and much to discover about my old, steadfast and reliable friend. With her back, front and center in my life, I plan on growing old with her and as we age, as we continue to change and evolve this friendship will just deepen.

I can only hope that I will be as loyal and loving a friend to her as she has always been to me.

Barley and Broken Glass

Sometimes I say that I am a different version of the myself and it feels deeply true as evidenced by an encounter with barley and broken glass showed me.

This morning, as I was making my favorite breakfast of oatmeal with the sweetest, freshest berries picked from my neighbor’s garden, I went into the cupboard to grab the mason jar filled with raisins. My mind was filtering, scanning, skimming all sorts of things… in other words I was really not paying much attention to the task in front of me. I turned toward the counter and heard this thud and then the shattering of glass as a small jar of barley crashed on to my kitchen floor. As I turned toward the sound, as I look down at the mess, in the split second, the tiny, tiny second between the action and the reaction I saw the fork in the road.

One direction would lead me down the path that began with words like “You stupid idiot,  how did you let this happen?” “Look at this mess, what is wrong with you.”

The other direction would lead me down a path that began with words like, “Are you ok?” “Be careful of the glass.” “Go and grab some shoes and then we can clean this up in no time.” In that split second I chose to follow the gentle, less worn path.

So this nurturing voice  guided me to a pair of shoes and together we returned to the broken shards and bits of barley sprawled everywhere. We shook out the rug, we moved the recycling and the trash can out of the way and we grabbed the broom. All the while she was talking to me in hushed tones saying those nurturing, nourishing, self-loving things,

“It is ok, you did not lose anything of any importance.”


“You are ok. Just a silly bump in the road.”


“You are human and sometimes things happen that you can’t control. It doesn’t mean anything. A jar broke and barley was spilled, nothing more and nothing less.”

We scooped up the big pieces and listened to the tingle of the glass as it clamored into the recycling, we swept the floor twice (she insisted on twice as she gently reminded me that I am usually in stocking feet around the cottage). In five minutes time, the mess was gone, the delicious oatmeal was ready and all was right in my the world.

Today’s barley and broken glass reminded me of this serious conversation I found myself in with a friend of mine, in which I said to her “If it ever comes down to taking care of you or taking care of me, I will take care of me.” I have no idea how we had ended up there but I do remember that she bristled at my statement with words echoing distant childhood accusations of being called selfish. At the time, I rationalized my statement by saying that if I am taking care of you and you are taking care of you, who is looking out for me?

Today, amidst a mess of broken glass, I was reminded of who is looking out for me and I felt so grateful and apparently I am on the right path.

A Bad Habit

I have realized this weekend that I have a bad habit of leaping without much thought about the details of how I will get from where I am to where I want to be.

I could tell you my story of being born into a world that was all about being careful, about not taking risks, about being safe, even if safe meant not following my heart, my hopes, my intuition.

I could tell you my story of how, for a long time, I thought that by living a small, controlled, predictable life, that I would find some measure of security.

I could tell you but it would only be a story.

When I first read “The Artist’s Way,” more than ten years ago, I latched on to a single simple phrase that has slowly become the motto for my existence. “Leap and the net will appear.” This simple little sentence, these six little words encompassed everything that I did not know how to do at the time. It told me that I could take a chance and trust that something greater than myself would catch me.

My latest leap has been into a counseling training program and into the arms of over 30 strangers who show up in ways that I could never even have imagined. I wanted to do this program to deepen my skills and connections to my health counseling clients and to do a bit of work on myself.  Now, with two weekends under my belt, with a few experiences of sessions with other students, with being seen and accepted for just arriving in the room, I feel raw and vulnerable and exposed in ways that I did not expect. I leapt into the experience not thinking about all of the little details, like sharing what is deep and real in the moment with strangers as my introverted heart is easily overwhelmed, or what it means to make myself available to each soul that looks into my eyes searching for connection or even what it means to show up with an issue that is so deeply imbedded in the fiber of my being that I can’t even fantasize about how certain parts of my life could be different.

I don’t regret signing up for this program. It is exactly what I need at just the right time. I am just acknowledging that in this very moment, at the end of the second weekend of workshops, that I find that I have a very bad habit of leaping without anticipating the risks involved.

I have a very bad habit of pushing my personal boundaries, of sometimes stretching beyond what I thought possible. I have developed this very bad habit and in the end… it just might save me.