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You Were Once Wild Here

There should be a name for the emotion when you return to civilization from the wilderness, when you descend from snow melt alpine meadows to central valley strip malls, from giant ferns and old growth redwoods, to tiny garden plots between fences and driveways.

My son melts down almost every time. The first time we noticed, he was inconsolable on the drive home from Santa Cruz about losing a clump of hair from the squirrel tail he found. That morning we had woken up on redwood duff in the woods above campus, after hiking in late night in the pitch dark, acutely attuned to every sound: the creaking redwoods, the conversing owls. We realized it wasn’t about the squirrel tail, it was leaving the woods. Since then, he will predictably melt down with deep grief over the loss of a toy, or something breaking while we are packing to leave a wild space.

We took him backpacking when he was two and I have a recording of a talk I had with him, soon after we got back, in the Target parking lot. I saw him crouching in the bushes and asked what he was up to, and he replied, “Pooping in the jungle [his word for woods].” I explained to him that we only poop in the jungle when we’re backpacking, that the rest of time we need to poop in the toilet.

There is a long pause before he responds, a pause which captures his comprehension that backpacking is the anomaly and THIS, the Target parkinglot and all in connotes, is how he/we will spend the bulk of our lives. After this long pause, with deep existential sadness and rejection he says, “Noooooooo!”

I feel this.

My eyes are watering as I type this. This wilder way of life is fading. Because we too are wild animals, it is our habitat, not just endangered species habitat, that is disappearing. Wild spaces are starting to feel like a museum. Our global population increases by 200,000 each day. This is real folks, I don’t see this changing. Just as our parents (and some of the luckier of us) tell with sadness how they used to build forts in the wild space behind their homes that became subdivisions, it’s not a stretch that we will tell our grandkids about camping before there were long waitlists and lotteries due to high demand on limited preserved land, or our grandkids will tell their grandkids about how whales used to be real and it was common to see bees and suburban butterflies.

What are the effects of this loss of wildness? Francis Weller says, “The wild within and the wild without are kin, the one enlivening the other in a beautiful tango.” Wilderness reminds us that “we, too, are meant to embody a vivid and animated life, to live close to our wild souls, our wild bodies and minds. We are meant to dance and sing, play and laugh unselfconsciously, tell stories, make love, and take delight in this brief but privileged adventure of incarnation.” You belong here. You are wild. In wild spaces all the stories of separation fade away. We can howl, dance, weep, and splash. The deer don’t care about your cellulite or retirement account. You can remember who you are and why you’re here.

“Wilderness is not a luxury, but a necessity of the human spirit,” Edward Abbey

Nature heals. Surgery patients with trees outside their window recover faster than those with views of brick walls, and prison inmates whose cells face farmland have fewer illnesses than those with cells facing a prison courtyard. Crime rates and mental health issues are higher among those isolated from wildlife. How often have you taken your grieving, confused, stress-addled self to nature, to return grounded, connected, and clear?  The truth and what matters emerges, and the rest falls away. As wild spaces become fewer, farther, and forgotten, we become increasingly impoverished: mentally, physically, and most of all soulfully.

This has been happening and will continue. The current rate of extinction is estimated to be 10,000 times the average historical extinction rates. 69,000 species have already gone extinct this year. It’s estimated we lose about one species every five minutes. This includes entire cultures and ways of being: every few weeks a human language is lost, “and along with it a nuanced imagination of a people who were rooted to a place for perhaps thousands of years… It is our spiritual responsibility to acknowledge these losses…We know and feel in our bones that something primal is amiss. Our extended home is being eroded, as is the experience of our wilder self. It is essential that we stop and recognize these losses. It is good manners to respond with sorrow, outrage, and apology at these places touched by so much loss.” (Francis Weller).

All of this would be captured in that emotion I described, when you’re taking that last swim in the river before climbing in the hot car, knowing it will all feel surreal when you’re ordering food hours later surrounded by hot asphalt, and it’s not just the temporary leaving, it’s the forever disappearing. For now that river still exists, but in this moment, as you read this, other rivers are ceasing to exist. Wilderness is going the way of unicorns and fairies. If we forget about the magic and wall off our grief, it will further fade into the realm of myths.

“stay together, learn the flowers, go light” ― Gary Snyder

So please, go to the wild spaces that remain while you can. Rewild your heart. Get naked and weep. Take your children and swim and sing with them, dance with them around the fire. Inoculate them with the wilderness without and within. Gary Snyder says we will protect what we love, so remembering and teaching may slow the demise.

But even more importantly, let your love crack open your grief. It’s all there underneath it all, always.   “Grief is itself a medicine” (John Cowper), and “The deeper the sorrow, the greater the joy” (William Blake). Join me. Let’s be mad and sad and wild together.

Sources:

Louv, Richard (2005) “Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder”

Weller, Francis (2015) “The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief”

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Your Beautiful, Sexy Boundaries

The Night it all Changed

In the war zone wake of leaving my husband, I found solace in conversations with a wise man on OK Cupid. We hadn’t met in person yet, and I had no idea I would have a baby and home with him down the road; what I knew is I could connect with him on a deep level that was rare for me to find.

With my ex it was so confusing as to where to draw the line. Wherever I drew it he would battle with me ferociously. His arguments were so convincing, and the fighting so exhausting, I’d eventually collapse. I was searching for guidelines from an authority I could defend as conventionally reasonable.

As an empath I can take someone in–their thoughts and emotions–on such a deep level, it’s as if I momentarily become them. This is a superpower for sure: I use it to heal people and support my family with it, but man has it also gotten me into trouble–especially when paired with someone not above abusing it. It got me into trouble elsewhere for as long as I can remember as well. I once saw a psychic who said “Thank god you’ve learned some discernment! People used to come up to you and attach to you like vacuum hoses and suck you dry.”

So, feeling beleaguered on a particularly bad night, I reached out to this OKC “3DPerson” and asked, “How do I know where I get to make boundaries and draw the line? How do you know what’s reasonable?” What he responded with was earth shattering. He said, “You get to decide where to draw the line. It’s up to you.” What?! All this time I had been trying to find the “reasonable” place, and if someone responded negatively to my boundary, then that must have meant it wasn’t reasonable. This was a revelation to me.

Some people will have challenging responses to your boundaries

This information is so imortant and powerful it’s worth repeating: you get to decide where to draw your boundaries based on what feels good and right and delightful to you. If someone responds negatively, that doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with your boundary. In fact, people often respond negatively to boundaries. Think about a toddler when you tell them “No.” Inside we’re all essentially toddlers, we just have more tools to cope and conceal it. Because people so often respond negatively to boundaries, I want to give you another tool to deal with their responses: it’s called “Me/Not Me” and I learned it from the masterful Steve Bearman of Interchange Counseling. It is so simple, it’s silly, but to me it was profound.

“Me/Not Me”

Find someone to practice with. Sit accross from them. Say “Me” and sweep your arms out to create an invisible shield going out 3-4 feet all around you and stretching at least midway between you and the other person. Now picture yourself filling up all that space. This is your space to take up and fill with your energy, thoughts and emotions. Do not allow the other person to psychically or emotionally come into that space. Now say “Not me” and put your hands out, palms forward as if saying “stop” or doing a verticle push-up in the air, and observe the other person–all their emotions, energy, and thoughts–on the other side of your bubble shield, from a safe distance. They are over there, perhaps reacting to your boundary.  Their reaction is in response to you, but it’s their stuff, it is not your responsibility. Some people will delight in your boundaries, and say, “Good for you! I am so glad you are taking care of yourself” and others may attack or crumble, act out or cry and pout in pain and disappointment. It’s about them and their stuff. Consider what they are saying from the distance of your bubble, but do not absorb or swallow it.

You are the Authority

So the gist of what I am saying is this: YOU ARE THE AUTHORITY. You get to decide every minute of how you spend your time, and with whom you share your attention and gifts. As you get better with boundaries you will start to notice your guilt triggers. An old one for me is “selfish.” I thought becuase I had healing gifts I should share them with anyone who needed them any time I could. This was that BD period of my life (Before Discernment), and resulted in huge leaks of energy, some spent on people with “leaky pots” (when you water them, it all pours out because they haven’t done the work yet to hold it). Now that I can work through this trigger, sometimes taking care of myself looks as radical and ridiculous as shopping for tank tops at Forever 21 instead of responding to a client in crisis.

I found and worked through another trigger recently when a potential client wanted to know why I was not longer accepting insurance. I explained that insurance reimburses far below the going rate. My response triggered her and she attacked, saying I was greedy and a contributor to the broken system. This unsettled me for two days. I saw that I am a part of the broken system and I am greedy. Do I really need to make $160 an hour? Do I really need to go to Hawaii? Why isn’t the unusually generous contracted rate of $120 from insurance enough for me? Do I want to change this boundary?

I decided no. Receiving my full rate delights me. It allows me to do stellar work, spend more time with my family, write this blog, and create Wild Women Rising (and offer scholarships to that), a powerful group program that empowers more women than I could possibly reach doing individual work alone.

What to do When Your Boundaries Aren’t Respected

I volunteered on a suicide hotline during my first year in graduate school. I had no former training or experience in psychology–luckily the admissions committee of JFKU, two comical and chummy men in Hawaiian shirts, thought my random path of Peace Corps and other voyages utterly qualified me (“She’s been to the kingdom of Tonga?! She’s perfect!”)–so I was trying to buff up my CV. Following falling asleep on the BART train after field trips with kids with autism (the kid I was paired with calmed himself by inserting my braid in his mouth frequently and suddenly and sucking on my hair–a behavior that unnerved everyone else but somehow didn’t bother me), I’d get off BART and ride my bike up “Holy Hill” in Berkeley where I’d descend into the basement for my shift consoling the lonliest and neediest people on earth.

It is very difficult to get off the phone with someone contemplating suicide. The transitional statement was always, “What are you going to do to take care of yourself now?” 90% of the time it was “Go be with my cat/dog” (animals are such healers!), but invariably they would find a way to keep the conversation going. I am eternally grateful for my trainer, a swarthy and tattooed recovering alcoholic, former river guide and Vietnam vet. Growing up amongst hipppies in West Marin, I had never met anyone like him. He was blunt and often “not nice.” He would listen to my calls from the other room. I was terrrible at ending them. I would say, as trained,

Some of my beautiful, powerful Wild Women Rising. Learning to enforce boundaries is one of the key components of the program.

“We have five minutes left,” but when the five minutes were up they’d find a new hook. There was no way to end the call without being “rude.” Growing up as a young goy white woman in a liberal bubble I was indoctrinated to never be rude! Unnervingly when the five minutes were up he would shout sternly and abruptly from the other room: “Hang up the phone Florie! You said you we’re going to hang up. Now hang up!” Now whenever someone is pushing my boundaries and I need to be “rude” to enforce them, his voice echoes these sentences in my head.

Which is to say that you are the enforcer. It’s mostly up to you to enforce and protect the boundaries you create.

Some Closing Thoughts

  • Spend time attuning to yourself as you would a child. Ask yourself about your wants and needs.
  • Notice your internal response when you say yes or no. When something doesn’t feel right you can change your mind.
  • Notice who routinely disrespects your boundaries. Maybe you no longer want them in your life.
  • Work on the triggers that cause you to question or collapse your boundaries.
  • Practice Me/Not Me.
  • Celebrate your successes and have patience with your fumbling. This is all a lot harder in practice than it is in theory.

I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below.

Good luck and big love,

Florie

 

 

 

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Will You be Your Valentine?

Happy sad Valentines Day!

If Valentines Day reminds you how of lonely, needy, and insufficiently loved you are, read on!

As little ones we are meant to soak up unconditional love. Think about the expression on most people’s faces when they look at a baby. Children are supposed to feel like the most special beings in the world. Unfortunately, not all of us got that, which can lead to having these “inappropriate” little-person needs in these awkward, defended, competent-looking adult bodies. And trying to get little person needs met when you’re in an adult body doesn’t really work. Most people can’t see your adorable inner child and they expect you to know and speak your needs and take care of yourself.  Adult relationships, even friendship and love, and contractual and conditional. Expecting others to fulfill unmet childhood needs only leads to disappointment.

valentineSo here’s the bad news: the only way you are going to get unconditional care-taking love as an adult is to give it to yourself. You can get some love and care from others, but the more you love yourself the more love you will be able to receive. You need to be the parent you didn’t get. It sucks. You get to be mad and sad and stricken with grief. Feel all those feelings. You will never get the love and attention you deserved and needed in the way you should have. Not only that, but you probably didn’t have the greatest parental role models, which means you’ve got to figure out how to be a loving parent to yourself from scratch. So, sweet dear needy human, here are some ideas to get you started:

Make an Altar to your Little Ones

Find some old photos of yourself as a child and make an altar with them on your dresser or someplace in your house. Put flowers and pinecones there, or other things they would like. Talk to them. We all have little ones inside: a five year old, eight year old, ten year old, etc. Pick a time in your life that was especially hard. Look at a picture, or close your eyes as you hold a pillow. Put all your love into the pillow or the pictures as if you were giving it to yourself at that age. Remember yourself at that age. What did you most need to hear from a sane and wise adult who really saw you? Tell yourself what you needed to hear. Be the adult that you needed back then.

Talk to Yourself Out Loud

When times are hard talk to yourself out loud. What are you saying? Something mean that your parents said to you? Would you talk this way to a child? Notice as much as you can your self talk. This can take a long time. When you have gotten a handle on this, try saying something different. What would a loving parent say? For example: “Oh sweetie, you are having a hard time. You are being so strong right now to let yourself feel all those hard feelings. It is so hard. You are doing so good.” Hold space for yourself to feel all the feelings and then, just as you would with a child, find the right time to shift away: “What do you want to do now? Shall we make a snack? Do you want to go for a walk?”

Do Your Work

Find a loving therapist who can see you and love you the way you wish your parents could. It doesn’ have to be a therapist, but therapy is great because you get to just receive. A therapist can help you grieve what you didn’t get so you can be open to receiving the love that is available to you. Therapy is also a great place to practice letting down your defenses. Chances are you probably developed some self protection strategies that helped protect your spirit growing up, but now that you’re no longer in that environment, those defenses are likely often not needed and are unhelpful. Your therapist can help you know your defenses well and become more intentional about when to use them. Vulnerability is the main ingredient of intimacy and therapy can be a safe place to practice being vulnerable.

Give Yourself Permission

Get a big piece of paper and your art supplies (crayons, pens, stickers, glitter anything you have). Write across the top: “You Have Permission to……” and then fill in below it any little thing that makes you happy. Go to town. You get the be the authority! In what ways are you stingy with yourself? What things could you do for yourself that would make you feel juicy, abundant, fulfilled? Be specific. Some examples: You Have Permission to…….make mistakes, take at least one nap a week, buy yourself flowers every week, buy all the art supplies you want, ask for help, spend up to $100 on a musical instrument, call in sick to work when you’re not sick at least once a month, etc.

Make Sacred Alone Time

Create and protect 1-3 hours of sacred alone time every week. This is time to be with yourself, to do what you really want. Go for something mindful, nourishing, or creative, something that is going to help you feel connected to yourself and refill your tank. Some ideas: go to yoga, take a bath or a nap, sunbathe, write in your journal, be crafty or create art, go for a walk or hike, play music, have a solo dance party, go thrifting or shopping for art supplies, go to a cafe or museum, etc.

Seek Your Approval

Being needy for love can make you want to bend over backwards, shapeshifting for anyone who might love you, asking, “Who or how do you want me to be?” It’s hard to have sense of self when that self constantly changes depending on the context. And how can you or anyone else love you if you don’t know who you are? Take the time to figure out your needs and what pleases you. Make yourself the person whose approval matters the most. Dress how you want to dress. IMG_4404Do what you think is badass and cool. Take a stand for your needs and desires and let your freak flag fly. And then tell yourself how proud you are of your courage.

Self love works. It might be awkward or fake at first, but keep at it. If you commit to this work with a hearty yes, and stick with it, you will find the loving sky and ground and your light will shine brighter. As you become more grounded and healthy you will attract others who are equally healthy and grounded who will love you well. I wish you luck on your journey. Will you be your Valentine? Please say yes!

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Why I Take my Shirt Off During Yoga

I have a biggish belly. Even bigger now since the baby. Big enough that I need two hands to count the times people have congratulated me on a pregnancy that involved no baby, just fat.

It’s been this way since puberty. I was chunky in middle school; back when girls were foxes and dogs, Shambo, another hippie kid, would tell me, “Don’t bark, Florie.” In high school we went away on sabbatical, and I came back img_4314tanned, blonder, and skinny. Suddenly everyone wanted to be my friend or date me, which felt weird, because internally I was the same person. Nevertheless, with that lovely young body, that belly persisted. Other girls picked up that I was sensitive about it and called me “Pilsboury Dough Girl.” I remember being sure to spend most of my time in my bikini lying down, because then it looked flat. Geez, what a waste! All that time with that beautiful, able body, leaking my life force obsessing about this perceived imperfection.

Things got a little better in college. I had a lover who loved my body and trained me to stop sucking in my stomach when we made love. It helped to see a range of normal naked bodies by living with women friends, skinny dipping, and backpacking around naked on the Lost Coast. Nevertheless, when I hadn’t lost any of the pregnancy weight ten months after my son was born I took Adderall to lose the weight. I was still breastfeeding at the time and I’m pretty sure my son has ADHD. Did the Adderall cause the ADHD? Probably not, but I’ll never know for sure. That’s how hung up I was on losing my pregnant belly fat.

The Day it all Changed

One day, driving through SF, my partner pointed out the sexiness of a woman’s muscular abs on a billboard on the back of a bus. I instantly felt hot, mad, and shut down. I felt frumpy, pudgy and wanted to hurt him. I think I did punch him in the arm. Hard. Luckily he is a counselor, dedicated to personal growth and amazing at being a safe and insightful listener. I told him what was going on and rather than say, “No sweetie, your belly really is sexier to me than that model’s” he shared that he didn’t totally love my tummy, and sometimes he tried not to focus on it when he looked at me. (Thank you “Radical Honesty,” the book we were reading at the time). Ok. Breathe. Miraculously we were on our way to a two-day intensive workshop on love and shame.

Naked Counseling

As part of the workshop we did naked counseling: a room full of 120 naked people sitting on towels in Fort Mason Center with sheets over the windows and the heat lamps turned up to keep us warm. In groups of four we went into the center and stripped down in a quick co-created ritual then returned to the circle of everyone holding hands facing outward so as not to see the undressing or anyone until we were all naked. The room was electric with nervous excitement; people were jumping up and down and singing silly songs. Finally, everyone naked, we all turned around and were instruced to mill about and check each other out. Wow. 120 normal naked bodies. Fascinating. Interestingly, the hottest people with clothes on were not the hottest people with clothes off.

img_9984Even more interesting were the issues people counseled on: herpes, having a foreskin, sexuality, being “oversexual,” “undersexual,” reclaiming sexuality after rape or molest. The woman considered by many as the most beautiful indeed had a “perfect” body. When she asked to counsel in front of the group we all wondered what it could be she needed counseling on. It turns out it was a birthmark on her forehead no one had noticed and we still had trouble seeing even when she pointed it out. It gave her great suffering. This might seem wild to you (it did to me), but don’t you have your own ridiculous thing?

Still smarting from the bus billboard incident, I requested to counsel in front of the group. The counselor was one of those goddess types: you know, women who are not conventionally beautiful–either they’re not skinny, or half their head is shaved, or they wear fedoras and have hairy legs–but they are sexy, and they rock those curves/bushy eyebrows/sleeve tattoos. They are powerful, and even intimidating, and I’ve always wanted to be one of them, or friends with them, but felt undeserving, like I wasn’t allowed to because I just took my free ride on the conventionally-beautfiful-enough boat.

I stood up in front of the group. I probably wouldn’t have if there was the option to do it “next time,” but with naked counseling, would there really be a next time? I asked this earth goddess how she loved her “big” body and she said she made a choice to.

Choose Love

It can’t be that easy and in some ways it’s not. You have to notice when you’re not loving your body and then stop. Over and over. But eventually the comparing and self-degrading goes away. It’s like a boundary you assert to a persistent unwelcome old friend: “Hello, automatic-old-familiar-shamey thought, you’re no longer welcome. I have chosen to love my body. Goodbye.” To me it felt like adoption. I choose to adopt and love my belly unconditionally that day. I said yes to this part of me that cultural conditioning has encouraged me not to love.

img_9992The work is ongoing but it gets easier. I still catch myself being mean and then remember my promise to love my belly.  It really feels like a switch I can toggle. I start having the old thoughts and remember and stop. Flip the switch to love.

Yesterday, on the beach in Hawaii, I notice all the programming: I look at every body and evaluate it. Do I approve or not approve? Where does my body fit in to the hierarchy? I feel envious of the young hot bodies, both wanting and not wanting the attention they are getting. I see bigger bodies in bikinis and notice the cultural message I’ve been programmed to transmit: “Don’t you know you’re not suppose to expose your body like that if it doesn’t meet the criteria?”

Fuck It

Back to yoga. Power Vinyasa yoga is 90+ degrees. It’s hot! It feels good to be shirtless, rocking just a sports bra. But then there’s that unspoken rule that you’re only suppose to do that if you have a flat tummy. Fuck it. Let the world see my chubby belly rolls. The more normal bodies we are all exposed to–to counter act all the media bodies we see– the better the world will be. So here you go world.