The Unexpected

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Things don’t turn out how we expect them to. I put this bottle of sparkling water in the freezer last night so that it would be the perfect temperature by the time I returned from walking my dog. The meandering walk took us beyond our routine loop and by the time we got home 45 minutes later, I had forgotten all about my great plan for a delicious sparkling beverage.

This morning I woke up. In a funk. Quickly tried to pin the mood on to a reason. Remembered it is best not to go there. All that usually happens is my head spins up lots of stories why I should feel self pity and then I’m worse off than I started. So I asked the universe for some kind of inspiration. I can’t spend the whole day in my head like this. I started making breakfast. Opened the freezer and there was my bottle of now frozen sparkling water. I wanted to be mad at myself. Current mood was helping in this direction. Why did I forget the bottle was in there? Stupid! A feeling of curiosity quickly took over, however. Look, the bottle had expanded enough for the paper label to pop off! I wonder how the container and the water will act as it thaws? And then the bottle started making noises! I wanted to capture a little video of it for Facebook and noticed that everything about this bottle was screaming for me to take a photo. And so I took the photo and, as happens to me when I’m in this zone, everything melted away (ha! Didn’t even intend to make a pun there!) and in spite of myself I was present in the moment and full of joy and peace. This always feels unexpected when it happens but it also happens every single time I’m focused on capturing a moment with my camera(phone). And now I feel grateful. Just like that. No more self pity.

A mentor used to say to me when I brought her some big issue that was making my life hard and my head crazy: “Let’s be curious.” In moments when I was most convinced that what was happening was not what I wanted and definitely not what I needed, her suggestion was for me to practice curiosity instead of anger, resentment, and refusal to accept reality as it was. It is not an easy task, but it is possible and the shift in perspective it provides is quite amazing. Even shocking.

So today I’m grateful that things aren’t what I think they should be. I’m grateful that the sparking bottle of water wasn’t meant for me to enjoy last night, but provided a much needed redirection this morning and even inspired me to make art and write. I wonder what other surprises are waiting for me in all the things that have causes me pain or have unfolded contrary to my ideas of a good time?

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Dear Easter Bunny Santa…

Oh little baby Jesus Ghandi, why does being sick have to be so dang lonely. Sick. Lonely. Separately I can handle. But together?! I have a serious problem with it. Why is is that at a time when all of your body parts just want to be cuddled, you have no energy to make the tea you desperately need, and you contemplate the thought that you may actually be dying, that is when we are most isolated from the outside world? So you are forced to go at it on your own. You get up from the couch/bed, you make the tea, you make some food even when the effort feels so intense that you have to take a break and the whole thing takes WAY longer than it should, and you daydream about somebody snuggling you and rubbing your back and stroking your forehead. At least that’s what I do.

When I was little, getting sick meant that you were put under strict quarantine. You had your own spoon, dish, and cup, and nobody was allowed to hang out with you for fear that you would spread the illness. I come from a big family, so the fear was understandable. I’m pretty sure that even with this quarantine method, the sickness still inflicted itself on others in the household. Memories are funny things though, and not always accurate, so I could be wrong and it is possible that my parents’ way of dealing with sick children really did prevent the spread of germs in the household. I just remember, and this one I’m sure of, that I was lonely.

In my adult life, the only time I’ve felt totally taken care of when I was sick was by my friend Gabby. I remember the time (maybe it was more than once) that she came over to my studio apartment in Seattle, took of her clothes to reveal pajamas underneath, and climbed in my bed with me to snuggle and watch a movie with this sick monkey. I was like, “Aren’t you afraid of getting sick?!!!!” “Nope, she said.” I will never forget that.

I have this fantasy that if I had a boyfriend, he would totally take care of me during my time of illness. The truth is that none of the men I have dated (short of long-term) ever did what my friend Gabby did – drop everything and be there with me when I was feeling so so very icky. But the idea lingers that my loneliness-during-sick-times problem could be fixed with a boyfriend. He would at least be obligated to bring me tea.

The sad thing is that even though I know how horrible it is to be sick and alone, I don’t often go out of my way to go spend time with my friends when THEY are sick. Ok, I’ve done it a few times, but not enough to really claim that it is a thing I do. Why? Because I am afraid of getting sick. So I am, turns out, like my parents. That’s not a bad thing. It’s just…..interesting.

Taking Up Space

So you know the thing guys do when they put their arm(s) on the back(s) of the seat(s) next to them so that they end up taking up two or three seats instead of one?  Yeah.  I don’t do that.  Here’s the thing though:  Lately I’ve been wanting to.  No big deal, right?  Wrong!  I have been restraining myself from following this urge because……I’m a lady?  Sigh.  Seriously.  I don’t see girls or women sitting this way.  Like EVER!  So, my brain tells me it must not be ladylike.  Hmmmm…..Interesting.  This thought makes me feel restricted, like my body wants to move in a way that is perfectly natural and I stop it.  I almost feel ashamed at the though.  People will look at me and they will think (whisper) “that I’m not ladylike”, sitting like a boy.  Now I’m ashamed at THAT thought because I feel like I should be “above” thinking like that, caring what people think or even expecting them to react in certain ways.  Now I am really uncomfortable and all that has really happened is that I’m on the bus and I had the thought to put my arm up on the back of the empty seat next to me.  This is madness!

When I shaved my head back in 2007, it was after years of on and off wanting to do so.  I was living in DC at the time and saw no girls with shaved heads.  I have no idea why the desire kept popping into my head, it just did.  When I gingerly brought this up to a friend and my at the time boyfriend, their reactions were not favorable.  To say they were not supportive is an understatement.  They asserted I would not look good with a shaved head and pretty much thought I was crazy for thinking of doing such a thing.  I was hurt and disappointed, but put the thoughts aside for the moment.  At that time in my life I relied mostly on my external environment to tell me “how I was doing” at this whole life thing and did not have a very strong internal sense of self.  I finally did shave my head though.  I had just gone through a break up (with the aforementioned boyfriend) and when the thought of shaving my head popped into my head again, I finally felt crazy or brave enough to go for it.  I told myself that if I ended up looking like a cancer patient, I would just wear hats until my hair grew longer (no joke, this was the actual pep talk I gave myself).

My hair dresser at the time was more scared to shave my head than I was to have it done I think.  It was right after the whole Britney Spears shaving head situation and I definitely think he was a bit nervous.  As soon as it was done, however, we both agreed that it looked great!  And I felt AMAZING!  I don’t even know how to explain it really.  It just felt like it was ME.

With my hairdresser in 2007, moments after he shaved my head for the first time.

With my hairdresser in 2007, moments after he shaved my head for the first time.

Since this moment, pictured above, I’ve had many many experiences/emotions/interactions/realizations involving my chosen hairstyle.  I’ve had strangers rub my head (without my permission), I’ve had drunk men ask me if I was bisexual, I’ve been stared at in public, I’ve bonded with other women with shaved heads (there are more of us here in Seattle, where I’ve been living since 2007), I’ve been called a boy, I’ve had men ask their friends if kissing me feels like they’re kissing a man, I’ve had lots of people ask me “why?”, and I’ve also received a whole range of compliments from all sorts of people (some strangers and some close to me).  I have had times when I felt like maybe I look like a boy and, at other times, fierce and strong and beautiful and my most feminine self.  I’ve grown my hair out (a little) and cut it all off again and I have currently settled on the shaved head look for good (at least for now….who knows). The most amazing thing that has happened over the years is that I have discovered, uncovered, and gotten more and more comfortable with my femininity.  And I am so grateful for that!

With my dad a few months ago :-)

With my dad a few months ago 🙂

So here I am, this person who generally feels comfortable in her own skin, who embraces her unique femininity (unique not because I’m so different, but because every woman’s femininity is special and unique), who (for the most part) does not hold back from doing things for fear of how others will treat/see her, and I am afraid of sitting in a public space in a way that may be perceived as un-feminine.

Today I took the plunge.  I was sitting in a deserted part of the Light Rail car and I could see my reflection in the window across from me.  I put one arm on the seat next to me and rested it there.  It felt really nice.  I felt a slight stretch along my chest and the inside of my upper arm/shoulder area.  And my reflection confirmed that…..I looked normal.  (This is kind of hilarious and embarrassing to write out, but I’m just telling you the truth.)  So then I put down that arm and tried the other one.  Yum on that side too.  I had no idea that sitting like this could actually give me a stretch.  Such a welcome change from feeling all scrunched up into one seat, with my arms by my sides, feeling my shoulders round.  And THEN……I put BOTH arms on the backs of the seats on either side of me!  Halleluyah.  No joke.  I felt my chest open, my shoulders were relaxed, and the stretch I felt was so wonderful.  I also felt like I was claiming my space, something I’ve been reluctant to admit I maybe have a hard time with as a female.  I felt comfortable, proud, and relaxed.  My chest was held high, literally, and it felt good!

So this thing I’ve been wanting to do but felt scared to do was actually….no big deal in a lot of ways.  I wanted to move my body and I did.  But man oh man do I feel like it was a journey getting to that point.  How weird and wonderful to actually FEEL yourself moving through and past fear into a place where your more and more authentic self resides in.  I’ve learned that I still have room for growth, both in feeling comfortable in my own skin (to move that skin as I feel fit) and in wondering how I am being perceived by others.  Room for growth is a good thing though 🙂

I just had a brilliant idea!

Ladies!  Take a picture of you “taking up space” in whatever way you feel inspired to and email them to me at slominse@yahoo.com and I will put up all these photos as my next blog entry.  Let’s make this happen!  I think it could be a really powerful thing (both for the person taking the action and the person viewing the photo).  Let’s do this together.

Empath in the City

Lately, I’ve been feeling overwhelmed by the city.  The stress of the rush hour can, at times, be unbearable.  Walking through crowds can feel like I’m being bombarded from all sides and there’s nowhere to hide.  The concrete everywhere is often suffocating.  Walking by the homeless/suffering on the streets hurts my heart and then I get angry because I just want to be left alone (their pain is palpable and sometimes I just get so tired).  Bus rides can be panic-inducing because I can’t escape.  As I’m learning more about what it means to be an empath, these feelings I’m experiencing make sense and help me feel like I’m not just crazy or weak or just “need to get it together”.

I feel everything.  Distress of any sort cuts right through me.  I sometimes don’t want to leave my apartment because I just want to feel safe and not take chances “out there” where it’s very possible I’m going to be overcome with other people’s “vibes”.  But I’m learning more coping skills and being more aware of where I’m going at what times and that makes things easier.

Nature is a complete solace to me.  Thank GOD Seattle is full of parks and places to be by the water.  I’m not sure how I’d manage without those things.

For my birthday, back in November, my boyfriend took me out to the Hoh Rain Forest and I was SO grateful.  As we drove further and further into deeper and deeper nature, I felt more and more calm, at peace, and like I could really BREATHE!  I felt free.

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A walk around a lake with a friend on Thanskgiving was so beautiful and the sun felt so GOOD!

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The sun doesn’t even have to be out for me to get the soothing benefits of being around trees and water.

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Earlier this week, I braved the crowds of tourists along the Seattle waterfront and took myself on a 5 mile walk down to the Olymic Sculpture Park.  It ended up being a very beautiful, soothing, and, at the same time, invigorating way to spend an afternoon.  Just what I needed!  As an empath, I’m learning that getting up and moving can help a great deal with shaking off other people’s stale energy and finding my own center again.

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These last photos are from a ferry ride my boyfriend Jason and I took a couple of days ago.  Being out on the water during the sunset was so lovely.  I spent most of the hour long ride outside, bundled up, taking photos.  Photography is meditation to me.  I am in the moment, fully present, and my mind stops whirling with thoughts.  It is actually a spiritual experience for me every time I’m in a photo-taking “trance” (taking lots of photos for an extended period of time) because everything else melts away and I am left communing with the beauty all around me.  It is a very welcome break from the state I am usually in, which is highly influenced by the people around me.

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So how do I survive city life with my increasing sensitivity to my surroundings?  Sure, there are times I wish I could escape to some cabin in the woods and stroll among the majestic trees on a daily basis and feel at peace, at least more so than I do during Seattle rush hour commutes on the bus.  Overall, however, I still like the city.  There are positive aspects of city life (museums, shows, random connections with strangers) that I would undoubtedly miss if I wasn’t living here.  So, I work on my meditation practice to try to center myself so I don’t feel overwhelmed; I try to avoid crowds if I know the vibe is going to be too hectic for me; I seek out nature in the city whenever I can and seize any opportunity to connect with it in a deeper way, even if for a moment.

Today, I was walking home from an errand.  It was late morning and downtown Seattle was Sunday quiet and pretty dang peaceful.  The sun was pushing through the fog brightly and I could feel it’s warmth on my face.  My wool coat was just the right amount of comforting heavy on my shoulders and my head was warm under a wool cap.  The air was crisp, cool, and fresh.  I suddenly stopped my walking and stood on the sidewalk for many moments to take it all in:  the way it looked, the way it smelled, the way it felt.  There weren’t many people out on the street, but I wouldn’t have cared even if there had been.  I was standing on asphalt, with concrete rising all around me, and I was at peace.

Current State of Mind

I feel like I live on the border between panic and beautiful mystery.  I wonder if I have wandered too far off the beaten path.  I can never find my way back now, even if I wanted to.  I have moments of, “What the FUCK am I doing?!” that raise my heart rate to panic attack levels and in those moments I almost want the old familiar, just to have a moment of peace.   But I don’t really mean it.  Good thing, because there’s no going back from this place.  So I continue to walk in this darkness, only knowing I’ve run into something when I encounter it physically, emotionally, spiritually, seemingly out of nowhere.  I’ve stolen moments of rest disguised as meltdowns, but those don’t fool anyone, including me.  No need to waste energy in crying out to the heavens, “WHY?”.  Wake up (this is important), eat, shower (when doesn’t matter, just do it at some point in the day), pray/meditate/try to be helpful, and do the next indicated thing.  Maybe this darkness that doesn’t allow for seeing the big picture is a blessing.  Maybe it is showing me the truth:  We never know what the big picture is and we are just making it up when we think we do.

There are not that many options.  Put one foot in front of the other.  What keeps me going is the memory of the amazing gifts the universe showered me with when I made the decision that changed everything.  Four months (July – November) of unmistakable, in-my-face magic.  I experienced almost non-stop signs from all directions and on all levels that I was going in the right direction.  SO much support and love that all I could do was take it in and be grateful.  I remember having a thought in the midst of it all, while I was in Sweden:  “When things get hard, I will have this time in my life to look back on and to remind me to have faith because what is happening right now is undeniable.”

These last four months (December – March) have also showered me with gifts, but of a more subtle kind.  They also seem to be leading me, along this razor’s edge of faith that threatens to dump me into a sea of despair, to a place filled with both my wildest fears and my deepest dreams.  I do not understand any of this.  Pride assaults me, humility surprises me, terror threatens to suffocate me, I feel so very alone sometimes, and still I keep going.

I wonder what the next four months will bring.

Day 18-81: Angsbacka

It’s hard to describe what kind of place this Angsbacka is.  http://www.angsbacka.com/

I have been back in Seattle for over three weeks now, but a part of me is still at Angsbacka.  Maybe that will always be the case.  My spirit found a piece of home there, among the people, in that forest, and living in the Yellow House.

On my first day there, I felt timid and unsure.  By day three, I felt like I wasn’t sure I would ever want to leave.  I ended up staying for nine weeks and it changed my life.

We started out days in a circle, holding hands, and a morning meeting.  Before that, I would always step outside for a few moments, to feel the fresh air.

I meditated every day.

We helped heal each other, we healed ourselves.

Meals took as long as they took and naps were encouraged and widely practiced.

I was reminded by others not to work too hard.  Multiple times at the beginning.

We sang songs, danced, and laughed until we cried.  Often.

I remembered what it must have been like as a young child, to be myself because I didn’t know there were other options yet.

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Day 13-18: Skovde

I took the bus out of Vadstena, after saying goodbye to my CouchSurfing host David and the two German girls who had also stayed at his place during the time I was there.  Meeting new people that you click with is beautiful.  Knowing that your paths may never cross again as you go your separate ways adds to that beauty, even if some sadness is felt, because impermanence is highlighted and you are reminded to be grateful for each present moment.

After the bus, I also had to take a train to get to Skovde.  Or was it two trains?  I can’t remember at this point.  But I do remember that I almost missed a train.  I finally figured out which platform the train I needed to be on was leaving from and when I got there, a train was  there but I wasn’t sure if it was the train I was looking for.  Long story short, I looked at the train, looked around in an obviously confused way, and just when I semi-decided that maybe that was my train, it started moving to pull out of the station.  Uh-oh.  So, I’m just standing there, looking at the train, pretty sure I’m supposed to be on it.  Next thing you know, the train slows down and the conductor opens his little window and asks me (in Swedish) if everything was ok.  Seriously, this happened.  I told him the town I was going to and he opened the doors and I got on.  Wow.  Maybe it was because I was in a small town, maybe it was because I was wearing a backpack and standing there looking confused all by myself on an almost deserted train platform, but that man did what he did and I ended up not missing the train.  How amazing is that?

Skovde is a medium-sized college town and I went there because I was invited.  This whole 90 day adventure I was on was just unfolding in a really organic way.  Through friends of friends on Facebook who had heard about my trip to Sweden, a guy named Jan messaged me and invited me to come see his town and to stay with him while I was there.  Why did I feel safe going to stay with him?  I just did.  I was in a strange country, meeting wonderful strangers everywhere, and just following my gut and intuition about where my next steps should take me.

My time in Skovde, with Jan, his brother Martin, and their friends was very sweet and nice.  I got to spend time in a regular town, doing regular things, with regular people.  This is really great when you’re traveling and away from home.  Once again, I got to just BE and in the process, go to spend time with people who lovingly opened up their homes to me and took time out of their days to show me around and keep me company.

The day I was to leave Skovde, it was raining really hard.  I needed to walk about 20 minutes from the apartment where I had been staying to the bus station.  I was not looking forward to doing this with a big ole backpack on my back and no umbrella.  I waited and I waited, and kept looking out the window at the rain.  I had resigned to the fact that I would just have to walk in the rain and get soaked.  I waited until the last possible moment and then left the apartment.  I kid you not, the rain stopped just long enough for me to get to my bus and barely catch it in time.  Yep, once again the universe lovingly helped me out and I was amazed and grateful.

 

Day 8-13: Vadstena

Pilgrims travel to Vadstena, sometimes by foot, to visit this small medieval town that St. Bridget is associated with and to spend time looking within during their time there.  I was on a pilgrimage of sorts, and so the place drew me in (I didn’t walk from Stockholm though, I took a bus).  Small, very old, by a lake, quiet…..sounded perfect to me.

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It’s hard to put into words how special the six days spent here were.  I spent hours walking around the cemetery, the church, the ruins of the old monastery, the quaint main street of this tiny town, the castle, and sitting by the lake.  A large portion of the time was spent by myself.  It was so lovely.  It was so peaceful.

I also had wonderful conversations with people who were staying at the Pilgrim Center  (where I stayed for a few days after being directed there by a helpful yet stern-faced nun) and with my CouchSurfing hosts and other “surfers”.  Having interesting conversations with strangers makes the world feel that much more small and cozy.

I didn’t take that many photos.  It felt good to just BE.

This last photo is of an old lock in an old door of the old castle in Vadstena.  When I noticed this small detail in the door, it made me smile.

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Day 1: Getting to Sweden, Day 2-8: Stockholm

The universe cradled me lovingly and passed me on from one caring soul to the next as I made my way from Seattle to Stockholm:  I ate breakfast at Glo’s, my favorite spot on Capitol Hill, with my wonderful friend Gabby and then she brought me to the airport; my friend Lan works at the airport and met up with me once I passed through security to wait at the gate until I boarded my plane; I made friends with a young woman and her daughter Giselle on the way to Frankfurt (had nice chats with the mom and played games/walked up and down the aisles of the plane with the little girl tugging me by the hand).

After about 15 hours of travel, almost no sleep, and drastic time-zone changes, I was in Stockholm!  As I walked with my backpack from the train/bus station in the center of the city to my hostel in Old Town, I felt like I was in a dream-like state:  exhausted, excited, nervous, just putting one foot in front of the other.

Some photos from my first week in Sweden, which I spent in Stockholm:

Stockholm, to me, is a beautiful city.  Made up of islands surrounded by water everywhere, the fact that there are always bridges to cross  feels very magical to me.  Modern, clean, yet full of history in the form of old streets and buildings (you just can’t find buildings like this in the US, in my opinion, and it always fills me with a void that, for me, comes from feeling of a lack of a true foundation in time and place).  Oh, and I love that everyone rides bikes here.  Young, old, man, woman:  all fashionably dressed, riding beautiful comfortable-looking bikes (in herds during rush hour in the evening) in bike lanes that are truly for bikes only (no need to share the road with cars).

Revelation #1 of this journey: Must Have Hammock!  This particular one I found in the garden/patio area of a delicious vegetarian buffet-style restaurant.  I honestly don’t think you can be upset or dissatisfied in any way in a hammock.  All of that just melts away.  And you make new friends without any effort at all (see the young Swedish girl in the background)!

Old friends in new places.  This is me with my very good friend Anna, who I have known for five years.  We met in Seattle, bonded immediately, and since then a lot has changed in both of our lives but we are closer than ever (even if we don’t see each other or talk for weeks or months).  We only had time to hang out for a few hours in Stockholm, but what a lovely few hours it was.

A few days before I left Stockholm, I took a short ferry-ride to an area of the city where there is a beautiful park and some gardens:

Beautiful nature in the city, apple orchards, flowers, warm weather, outdoor cafe = a very happy Etalia.

 

 

 

Man oh man do I love nature.  Getting a taste of it in the city always reminds me of how much I need it in my life.

After a few days in Stockholm, as much as I enjoyed my time there (staying in a hostel, staying with a new friend in her apartment, walking around the city, taking the subway around, etc), I felt like I was ready to go somewhere quieter.  Before I left, I went to a luau party in a park with some new friends.  I think that is one of the things I will remember most: the people I met while in Stockholm. People like Klara (who didn’t even know me when she offered to host me at her place for a few days), Yrsa (we connected on Facebook and then immediately clicked when we met in person), Jay (he became the connection between me with so many lovely people), Johanna (lady with very good vibes), and so many others.

Here are a couple of pictures of some of my new friends from Stockholm (I’m sad I don’t have a picture of Klara, my wonderful host for most of the time I was there):