the edges of myself

words, words, words

My last 24 hours encompassed a journey that included four airplanes, a motorized rickshaw, a large wooden boat and of course my incredibly strong and healthy legs (don’t know what I’d do with out them). And now I find myself surrounded by the sounds of the Peruvian jungle under a breathtaking canopy of stars, far from anything that I might call familiar. Though I feel perfectly at home. 

The last time I embarked upon a journey of this magnitude was 20 years ago. I was about nine months post college graduation and had made the decision to move out to the west coast from suburban Maryland where I grew up. I packed everything of value to my little red mazda 323 that my brother had just traded me for my bike. (I think I came out at the better end of that transaction). 

Saying goodbye to my father was gut-wrenching. We stood out in our driveway and I remember holding onto him as if my life depended on it– wanting to slow down time and live in that moment forever. Fear, excitement and sadness spilled over into tears and he finally said– “go on, get out of here.” So I hopped into my little red car and drove away, never looking back. I was 22 years old then. Now I’m 42. 

At 22 I was leaving behind all that i knew; my family, my foundation. At 42 I’m doing the same (though this time it’s for two weeks as opposed to forever.) But what I realize is that my foundation followed me then just as it follows me now. The roots I have established and built upon reach far and wide and have nothing do do with geography. Wherever I go they stretch beneath me and connect me to all that I know and love. 

I have come to the jungle of Peru to journey deep inside of myself and do the healing work that will help fortify me and my entire foundation. I am well aware of the ripple effect of energy work and I know that as I get clearer I help all of those connected to me find more clarity as well. I am ready to dive deep and pull my super powers out from my depths and give them some sunshine and fresh air.

Because superpowers deserve both.

I woke up around 2 in the morning on January 7, 2003 with anticipation and excitement at the prospect of finally meeting my first child. I was already twelve days past my “due date” and truly bursting with child. My body, carrying at least an extra fifty pounds, was behemoth. The skin of my torso stretched far past its reasonable bounds, angry red lines dancing around my navel and across the entirety of my belly’s massive girth.

I gave birth to my to my colossal, 9 lb. 6 oz. 24 inch long baby boy just 10 hours later at 12:17 in the afternoon at our home in San Francisco. I can still hear the sound of his father’s joy, a mix between laughter and crying– a sound that perfectly encapsulated the overwhelming wave of emotion at the birth of ones first child. It was an entirely unique cry the likes of which I had never heard before and feel comfortable saying I’ll never hear again.

Becoming Oskar’s mother at the tender age of 26 was undoubtedly the single most defining moment of my life up to that point. From the moment he graced the planet with his presence he was a brilliant light. Becoming his mother gave me a context that made me feel at ease in the world as I never had. He was an anchoring presence that made me feel a powerful sense of purpose. And the love that I felt for him and from him overwhelmed any sense of the word I had previously understood.

The last sixteen years of my life since that defining moment have been full to say the least. I gave birth to another amazing human being, (that makes two total). Uprooted my life from San Francisco to Portland and opened and grew a thriving business. I moved out of one marriage and into another (with plenty of self-reflection in between). And through all of those years the most tangible passage of time has been growing alongside me the entire time. (At this point he towers almost a foot above me.)

In my experience, motherhood is hands down the most powerful job on the planet with the greatest possible dividends. There is nothing that compares to watching a human being actualize what they have always envisioned themselves to be. And Oskar’s vision of himself has always been crystal clear. As a parent I often feel an immense desire to jump in front of any and all possible blows. The toughest lesson for me as my boy becomes a man is learning to take several steps back to allow him to navigate those blows on his own. And of course offer my humble perspective if he chooses to seek it (and even sometimes when he doesn’t).

From day one as parents we are learning and refining the practice of backwards baby-stepping. With each developmental milestone they gain just a bit more freedom and independence and we fade imperceptibly into the background. Parents are continuously asked to loosen our grip, to provide support without creating an oppressive structure. We must give them something to push into without making them feel that there is something they need to break free of.

I am in awe of the young man who towers above me and was the first to call me mom. Don’t get me wrong, he’s still a sixteen year old boy who is subject to being a human being, just like the rest of us. He is moody and unreasonable, stubborn and strong-willed, with a smile that lights up any room. He is my boy. He will forever be a gauge, and a barometer for how I interface with the world. His arrival on this planet forever shaped my presence here. And along with my softening skin and silvering hair, he will continue to be my most tangible testament to the passage of time.

I began the new year in a leisurely fashion, deciding at about 10 am on New Years Day to take on the project of paleo cinnamon rolls (not a small undertaking). As I began my paleo baking project, my husband drinking his coffee in our bedroom, I received a text from a dear friend who moved across the country six months ago asking if I was around because she was in the neighborhood. With only a moments hesitation I enthusiastically responded YES, excited at the prospect of seeing my dear friend. She let me know that she’d be by in about an hour.

I then took stock of the insanity that was my recently holidayed house and had a minor freak out in considering whether I should drop everything and make my house look presentable. But somehow instead of diverting my plans and turning into hyper-cleaning mode, I stayed the paleo baking course. This felt like a massive breakthrough for me.

I am chaos incarnate. My husband can attest to this better than anyone else on the planet. I move through a space like a tornado, my wake is far-reaching and unforgiving. The holidays for me are an intense time of creating. I love giving gifts, particularly ones that I have made. My house is my workshop of sorts, with my creative scraps strewn in all directions. It is far from calm. It is the opposite of tidy. It is downright messy. But it’s me.

The messy side of me is one that I’ve judged for most of my adult life. I have tried to hide it from the world, adopting an impressive hyper-clean mode that allows me to tornado through a space (much like I do in my creative process) and make it appear to be clean rather quickly. But the chaos is underlying– and who am I trying to impress, anyway? I am who I am.

So my dear friend who I hadn’t seen in six months entered my complete chaos. And you know what? It was absolutely perfect. She didn’t judge me. She actually seemed to enjoy parsing through the magical pile of disarray that sat next to her on the couch. She hung with me as I completed my baking project and then we sat and recounted our lives to each other as old friends do. She didn’t need me to apologize for my mess– and I managed to keep myself from doing so. (though it was challenging)

We are all our own harshest critics. Our fear of judgment keeps us separate from each other. The first thought that went through my mind when I received that message from my friend was: “shit, this house is a mess– how can I possibly let anyone see this?” And then thankfully very quickly my mind moved past my fear of judgement and onto something much more productive and nourishing, my desire for connection.

I have finally managed at the tender age of 42 to get over myself enough to understand that the whole world is not worried about my own perceived shortcomings. And I have far more to offer to the world than a neat and tidy home (thank goodness). My life is about as far from neat and tidy as one could possibly imagine– and in owning my mess I become more powerful. Besides, isn’t there some correlation between messiness and genius?

I’ve spent years dancing around my writing practice. I’ve moved in fits and spurts through months of writing and months of silence. I’ve paid tribute sporadically to the scurrying stories in my head, and done my best to be nice to myself when I’ve kept those stories caged. I have made declaratives in hopes of coaxing myself into my practice, created unrealistic structures that I’ve been unable to maintain. I’ve set myself up for failure countless times only to fall down, lick my wounds and eventually come back with a new resolve. 

It’s safe to say I don’t know what I’m doing or how to carry forward in terms of my writing. I simply know that there is a continuous narrative in my head that begs to be voiced. My stories are relentless, like monsters locked in the basement who refuse to be silent. Despite the myriad of distractions I like to throw in my path (yes, I have been called the Queen of Distraction), ultimately I always end up cracking the basement door and coaxing the monsters into the light. 

Once they’re out of the basement I realize they’re not even scary, just shy and misunderstood. And the energy I’ve been expending to keep them in the dark is so much more than what it takes to shine a light on them. When I don’t write, my words don’t disappear, they burrow down deep to fester and rot. I shove them into my internal darkness and then I manage to convince myself that there’s actually no such thing as darkness, particularly inside of ME. But it’s a technique that is rapidly losing its effectiveness. And as I step more fully into the light I realize that I AM my stories, and shoving them into the darkness (yes, it’s real) keeps me there too. 

I will refrain from making a large declarative here (been there, done that) and simply say that I’m slowly placing one foot in front of the other. I’m breaking off bite-size pieces from my internal hoard so as not to choke on my own self-imposed structure. I am creating a gentle, forgiving practice of honoring my voice. I am acknowledging my imperfect journey as absolutely perfect. (how could it not be?) And I’m making friends with my monsters. Mostly, they just want a proper introduction. 

Two weeks ago I returned from ten amazing days in Costa Rica. It was my honeymoon. And while I was clearly accompanied by my husband, we also had two other adventurers along; our kids.

Perhaps most people don’t bring their kids with them on their honeymoon– but I believe I have proven time and time again that I am not most people.

My husband and I got married this past March in the forest on the Oregon coast. Our wedding day was the five year anniversary of our first date. As you might imagine, a lot of distance was covered from that first date to the wedding five years later.

Our first date took place on a Tuesday night during the week of Spring break when I, a single mom at the time, had the miraculous and rare freedom of a week without children. (They were spending the week with their dad who lived in California at the time.) I had recently been freed from a long distance triste and had an undeniable attraction to the handsome massage therapist I’d met a year earlier who’d just recently relocated to Portland. So I asked him out on a date. And he said yes.

My love for him was immediate and far-reaching. I (and my two children) terrified him. “Consistency over a period of time,” were the words he used to describe love over and over again in the early months and years of our acquaintance. So I dug my heels in, intent to show him just how consistent a human being I am. (VERY) He never tried to woo me (there was no need). However he did spend a lot of time trying to convince me of all the reasons why he was not the person I believed him to be. I continued being consistent and slowly he began to allow himself to be loved by me (and my kids). And eventually he stopped denying his own love for the three of us.

When we decided to get married after we’d been living together for two and a half years our 12 year old daughter’s response was “FINALLY!” Our 15 year old son treated it like it was no big deal (kind of like he treats everything else). I remember explaining to them years before that us not getting married had nothing to do with them and that he wasn’t going anywhere. That’s a hard thing to fully understand though. It’s something one can comprehend intellectually– but on a deeper level there’s always the feeling of waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Yes, I have seen myself spending the rest of my days with this man since that very first Tuesday evening. But walking into the woods on March 24th and standing in front of our nearest and dearest and acknowledging that ceremoniously changed EVERYTHING. The world looked entirely different the next day. My husband described it as having access to more power. We closed so many doors on that day in order to open one as wide as it could possibly go.

And obviously our kids felt that too. That was the difference my husband articulated the most when people asked him the question (to his continued annoyance): “What’s it like to be married?”  He realized in his interactions with the kids– just how much unconscious fear of him leaving existed. Ceremony is powerful. Ritual allows credence.

Our marriage was an acknowledgement of the bond that exists between the two of us, yes. But larger than that it was an acknowledgement of the ties that bind all four of us. It was a ritual that solidified us a family unit. We walked out of the woods that day in March intangibly different from how we entered them. And our trip to Costa Rica was a continued acknowledgement of our solidity.

Adventures are an important thing to share– they are a different type of ceremony. They exist outside of our usual reality. They allow us a perspective we can’t find when we’re surrounded by our normal patterns and space. Costa Rica was the perfect place for our family to adventure. We found a new rhythm in the jungle that was a little looser and less refined than the one we’re accustomed to in Portland. We shared the experience of discovery of a world that was entirely new to all of us. We further solidified who we are as a unit.

My husband and I will have countless more adventures together– hopefully our kids will be along on some of them as well. But there was only one honeymoon– and it officially belongs to the four of us.

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I’ve successfully navigated the first third of my t.v.-free journey. I gave myself a few days without the pressure of writing which felt appropriate and good. Today is my day off and I began it as I do each week by taking a class at my studio taught by a dear colleague and friend. Afterwards the two of us spent an hour over tea talking and catching up. (She’s been out of town for the last week– and I’m heading out in two days). We talked about my recent realizations and process of liberation from distraction and her recent travels and discoveries.

One of the things I articulated that I hadn’t really acknowledged until talking to her was that my professional life in the last week has felt immensely fulfilling. Each of my days has been full of exactly the work that I want to be doing. And while there have been a few bumps at home with my family making the necessary adjustments as my t.v. free habits ripple outwards– my whole life feels immensely FULL. I realize that as I take the time for myself that I consistently ask other people to take for themselves– my light is getting brighter. I am an honest reflection for myself. I am no longer obscuring anything from my sight or anyone else’s.

A few days ago I was at a client’s house doing a space clearing when I was confronted with my own imagination of a perception of myself. I was outside the front of their house, clarifying the electromagnetic boundaries and clearing the space with my drum. It was around 11 am. Next door a window that was facing me opened and then quickly shut. I glanced over and saw nothing more than the hand that opened and closed the window. I continued drumming and slowly moved back inside with a smile on my face imagining the bewildered neighbor’s perspective.

“There’s a bald woman drumming next door!” I envision a woman shouting to her husband in another room– and I see myself from her perspective. And it fills me with joy.

In the last week I have had several visions of myself as a fierce warrior. These visions feel like a remembering– a re-inhabiting. Last night a friend and client who I had seen earlier in the day messaged me to say that he had a crazy flashback while standing at the butcher counter of me as an Egyptian goddess/healer. AWESOME.  And when I see myself in the mirror there is a deep and abiding recognition of myself that I’ve never before experienced. As I begin to move through the world forgetting that I may look unusual to other people– I notice that peoples’ reaction to me is different. Because I am not self-conscious, they are able to more easily take me in. Our own vision of ourselves is truly what is reflected to the outside world.

For the very first time in my life I am wholly unapologetic for myself. And I am hiding behind NOTHING. And in just two days I’m unleashing myself (and my sweet family) on Costa Rica!! Let the adventure begin!

Day six was my larger scale re-entry back into life with a newly shaved head. The advantage of narrating my process via social media is– a LOT of people already know that my head is shaved. Not everyone, however follows me on social media– so I dealt with the look of shock many times throughout the day. One client in particular had a pretty hard time taking in the hairless me.

My role in my client’s lives varies from person to person. For some people I am a rudder, a pillar, an anchor, a steady object which they rely upon to remain fixed. I am a known variable. Now, intellectually we can all understand that shaving my head doesn’t change that– however, emotionally it’s harder to get a fix on these things. The previously mentioned client entered the space on day six and literally did a triple take when she saw me. For her I occupy the role of rudder. She busied herself immediately, moving through the space, clearly shocked at the drastic change in my visage. When she eventually greeted me she did so tentatively– as if she couldn’t quite believe that I was still me. Thirty seconds into our session all was well– but she immediately wanted to know why I had made this drastic move.

I told her about my angry scalp, and about unplugging my television. I explained that two days into not allowing myself my distraction I couldn’t deny my scalp its liberation. I also told her that it took another 24 hours for my ego to relinquish its hold on me and allow me to move forward and do what needed to be done. She lay on the table taking it all in and said “You’re going to make me cry,” bringing her hands up to her eyes to dab them. “That’s truly radical self-care.”

And I guess it is. It’s not a phrase I had heard before it came out of her mouth, but it resonates. It seems to be the only way I can operate these days. I’ve taken my blinders off and have absolutely nothing to hide behind. I am unapologetically taking care of myself and I guess in this day and age that is fairly radical. We’ve become so patterned to consider everyone else before ourselves not realizing that if we don’t first fill our own cup, we won’t have anything to draw from to help fill other’s. So I’m embracing the radical self-care moniker. I’ll utilize it for the next 24 days and beyond!

And also, I rounded out the day with another amazing t.v.-free night with my husband. There are so many reasons why I married that guy.

Yesterday was day five of my self-imposed television liberation– and I’m not gonna lie, it was tough. I did have thoughts of just turning on the damn tv. But I restrained myself. I fought through the temptation to wither and collapse at the feet of my mighty electronic master. I emerged at the end of the day victorious and with some new perspective.

I had the majority of the day to myself free from responsibility. The house was empty save myself and my cats. It was the perfect curl-up-and-mindlessly-distract-myself kind of day. However, my self-imposed liberation did not allow said mindless distraction to occur. My first observation while sitting on the couch knitting was “wow, I am insanely tired.” When I engage in my habit of distraction via television screen I fail to connect to the state I’m in. I slip into a zombie-like engagement failing to give myself what I really need: REST.

So I began my afternoon by myself with a NAP. What a radical idea! I allowed myself to rest and recuperate as opposed to just numbing out and disconnecting from myself. Good job, Mandy. When I awoke from my 30 minute slumber I felt much better prepared to face the emptiness of my home. I cleaned my kitchen. I did some more knitting. I had long overdue conversations on the phone with both my brother and my father. I took care of tasks that have been ominously hanging over my head for the last several weeks. When my husband arrived home from work I was busy downstairs in my apothecary making magic. It felt incredible.

We headed out to grab dinner with the weight of what we were going to do with our evening hanging over our head. His long day of work weighed heavily on him– and our pattern is to put something mindless on the television and play a game of scrabble sharing space and a moderate intellectual engagement until we can’t stay conscious any longer.

Scrabble is a noble pursuit. As we sat eating our dinner on the front porch I suggested we play scrabble and talk. What? Conversation? Absurd. But, agreed. We did it.

And he had the SCRABBLE GAME OF HIS LIFE!!! I have never seen the man bring it like he brought it last night. He beat me by more than 100 points courtesy of an insane four word play with a scrabble. It was truly epic. I on the other hand had a special talent last night for picking all of the letters valued at one point. Sometimes that’s just how it goes. We sat there sharing each other’s company, unpacking our day, talking about the novel that he’s writing, our upcoming trip to Costa Rica, our kids, without any noise or distraction in the background. We settled into each others familiar company consciously. And we laughed. A LOT.

There is a fabric of our own that we forget to weave– because we’ve woven ourselves into someone else’s. We involve ourselves so much in the stories that are created and presented to us– we forget about the act of  creation that our own lives afford us. We are consumed by culture and celebrity and sensation– forgetting our own immense imagination.

To cultivate ourselves we must first remember that we need nourishment. Rest. Nutrition. Love. Engagement. Laughter. I am actively remembering what I require to be nourished. I am actively rekindling my own immense imagination.

So I’ve got no hair on my head, and it feels AMAZING!! My scalp is immensely thankful to me for paying attention to it for long enough to understand what it needed. (The lack of numbing stimuli played a large role in that process.) And I’m proud of the scared little girl inside of me who has thrown back the curtains and has absolutely no place to hide anymore. She’s really taking this whole thing in stride.

I went out into the world this morning hairless for the first time– and luckily I was going to my studio, where I was met with nothing but love. It was the perfect soft landing surrounded by my community. My next stop was Fred Meyer– where I ran into a dear friend of mine and her daughter. Again, they gave me immense love. Wrapped in the blanket of love from my studio community and my friends I approached the check out line and used that love as a shield for the weird stories my cashier was telling himself about me in his head. I wasn’t privy to the specifics of his stories– but I clearly made him uncomfortable. He avoided looking at me or making eye contact while he served me. Though I caught him looking at me suspiciously when he was waiting on the customer in front of me. I don’t know what to say about that except that it has nothing to do with me. My shaved head brought up something for him that he wasn’t comfortable looking at. I just happened to get caught in the crossfire.

So, how did I get from not watching t.v. to shaving my head? Simple. I stopped distracting myself. I began to pay attention to the clear signals that my body had been giving me for months that my ego hadn’t been ready to process. I stopped worrying about how I might be perceived and settled into the deep and abiding support that exists all around me. I shut off the distraction of other people’s stories and began to allow my own story to unfold. I’ve got 26 more days without television and I have no idea where this adventure is taking me. But I’m definitely no longer hiding.

It’s been three days now that I’ve gone without my drug of choice. Yesterday evening was challenging. I came home from work exhausted and had the house to myself. My pattern in this instance is to use this time for a guilty pleasure, namely watching a show that I watch by myself. The truest of escapes for me is settling into someone else’s story. What I’m realizing as I remove this option from my default menu is I’m beginning to settle into my own.

I’ve been on a deep, unwinding expansive journey for awhile now. The past few months it has intensified. I’m delving into previously unexplored places deep within myself and detoxifying my being on a never before experienced level. It is intense. And my body is reacting intensely. I’ve been working to heal my gut– clear out all of the old sludge that has gathered within me over the past 41 years– and it’s all rising to the surface and erupting onto my skin! My scalp for several months has been angry. It’s itchy and flaky and intensely unhappy. More recently the rest of my skin is beginning to follow suit. I have angry red patches on my face, neck and torso. And they ITCH!!

There’s a strange shame that arises with skin ailments. I remembered last night that as a child I had several skin ailments that made me feel intense shame. I remember desperately wanting to be “normal.” There is the desire to cover and hide. My hair has been doing an effective job of keeping my shedding skin under wraps for months– but in the last three days I’ve realized that my hair has got to go. My desire to hide beneath it is hindering me. As all of the gunk inside of me rises to the surface to be released it feels of utmost importance that I acknowledge it to the world– and that I allow myself to treat it with ease.

So, this evening with the help of my husband and some dear friends, I’m shaving my head. (And yes, I’m going to document the hell out of it– this may be a once in a lifetime experience). I’m removing my protective cover– because it feels necessary. There is a little girl inside of me who truly doesn’t understand that she is safe NO MATTER WHAT. There is no need for her to hide behind anything– and the only way I can effectively communicate that message to her is to remove all of the barriers between myself and the world.

So, while I’m not actually wildly enthusiastic about the idea of having no hair on my head– I am totally clear that it’s what I’ve gotta do. I’m actually completely terrified– but pushing into terror is one of the things I’ve learned to do best.