It’s the flavors and the colors I remember most from the summer I spent in Barcelona with my family when I was eight. Sitting on a park bench and biting into a doughy pastry, Gaudi’s dreamy tiles and stained glass that take you to magical places, the briny buttery rice in paella, the way the sun streams through the trees’ thick canopy and sometimes bounces off the green wing of a parrot. Coming back thirteen years later, it’s still the flavors and colors I’m drawn to. Spending a morning by myself wandering through the Picasso museum, meeting my husband after he gets off work for bubbly sangria and iberian jamon, jumping into the salty Mediterranean that’s the most perfect shade of blue. I can’t tell if everything is more enhanced now than it was when I was eight, or if the profoundness of experiences fades as the years go on. Our time here now will probably fade too, but I hope the best parts stay.
The morning was fresh and warm, and sweet with flowers and something frying and canang sari, the daily Balinese offering. Or maybe we couldn’t quite smell the offering, but we knew it was there because the gratitude, the presence, the mindfulness, and the devotion permeated the air. People say Bali has a magic to it - I think this is why.
Lorenzo went to get us coffee. I put on my swimsuit and walked the ten feet from our porch to the rectangle blue swimming pool. It was a shared pool, between the six or so rooms in the hotel. A homestay, it was called, but no one else was out this early.
I swam without direction, flipping underwater every now and again. I thought about what I wanted this trip to be, about why I had flown halfway around the world to be here, about why here of all places. Healing, discovering, connecting, manifesting - vague, broad hopes that I wanted to more clearly define. I knew Bali could help me with that, and not just because Eat Pray Love convinced me. I travel because it frees me and helps me reshape my story, and better understand what I want it to be.
Lorenzo came back with the coffee. Still glaze-eyed from jetlag, he held up two plastic bags heavy with hot black liquid. “This is coffee to-go,” he said. We emptied the bags into mugs we found in our room. The plastic bags, now relieved of their contents, were soft and sticky from the heat.
I wrinkled my nose. “I don’t think I can drink this,” I said, thinking of BPA and all the other toxins sure to be floating in my cup. Just then, the owner of the homestay appeared around the corner with a big tray and a bigger smile.
“Good morning!” his smile showed his molars as he set down plates of papaya, scrambled eggs, and soft white wonder bread in front of us. And a porcelain pot of coffee. “Oh, you have coffee already?” The smile was replaced by a furrowed brow.
“Oh, no, we will have yours! Thank you so much.”
He smiled again. A real smile. “Enjoy.”
The fluffy eggs with crystals of salt on top, the doughy bread, the fruit still warm from sunshine, the hot rich coffee with a sweet tobacco taste filled us. We ate until only a few pieces of bread were left and leaned back in our chairs and felt the air on our skin and thought, thank you.
Thank you for reminding us of the wonderful simple extraordinary pleasures. Thank you that we’re here. Thank you for right now.
I pull energy from my surroundings. This was something that both exhilarated and exhausted me when I lived in NYC. There, I was constantly bombarded with competing energies and couldn’t help but absorb the good and bad. It happens here in Atlanta, but to a lesser degree. I’m grateful that I get to work from home because it allows me to focus my energy where I need it and not feel drained. On the flip side, I find myself feeling empty if I’m alone for too long. When this happens, I go to a coffee shop — being around people working, talking, dreaming, reading is the perfect remedy.
I meditate with crystals most mornings. Sometimes I hold them in my hand as I breathe, other times they sit in front of me. I don’t do this because I believe crystals have magical properties or divine powers to heal. They’re just minerals from the earth.
It’s the symbolism we ascribe to them that gives them power. By letting a crystal — or rock, or anything — represent something meaningful, our mind focuses on that intention. When we focus on things like positive energy, strength, alignment, intuition, love, and healing, they become true. Where thoughts go, energy flows. It’s not crystals that are powerful — it’s our thoughts.
You hold loss in your bones. Not at first — at first the pain is in your stomach, lungs, chest, and every nerve in your body. But, as punch-you-in-the-face obnoxious as the expression is, time heals. And the pain releases you from its iron clenches. Like a scraggly old dog, it curls up and settles in your bones. Mostly it sleeps. But there’s a few sure-fire ways to agitate it awake. These things are what we call triggers — a word that is overused and sometimes mocked, but damn friend, if you have a pain-dog in your bones, you know what it feels like when it wakes up.
For everyone who has a pain-dog, I am so sorry for you. I feel profoundly for you. Yesterday was the kind of day where dogs were either awakened or created. The anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings. The destruction of Notre Dame, a stunning symbol and precious part of history. The shocking death of a colleague who was beloved by many. The tragedies everywhere that happen as frequently as we breathe. It fucking sucks. There’s not much to say that doesn’t sound trite; just keep feeding everything good inside you — the compassion, authenticity, creativity, awe, generosity, dreams, uninhibited love. The dog will eventually go back to sleep.
Gotta work to let the light in sometimes. Especially into the place you’ve already decided are dark. Especially into the stories you’ve been telling yourself for so long that you’re no longer sure what really, actually happened — and you’re no longer sure if what really, actually happened really, actually matters.
Let me tell you something — what matters is what you say matters. You can shift what’s inside you however you want to. And if you think a perception, a thought, a memory, a conviction is too dark, then by all means, send some of that divine light there. It’s OKAY to do that. You get to decide.
I want a wild and beautiful life. I want sunsets and mountains and oceans and endless belly laughs. I want to understand myself, to live in alignment with my truth, and to trust my flow. I want late nights with countless stars and soul-connecting conversations. I want deep sleeps and lazy mornings, and to always feel strong and good in my skin. I want pride and sweat, exertion and joy. I want to create. I want to love deeply and be loved deeply. I want to do what I'm meant to do. I want to live with my heart open, my soul forward, and expansively. Every damn day
As the yoga class progressed, my anxiety flared up, as it tends to do when I let my guard down. My thoughts turned to worries about what I said to a colleague the other day and if they took it the way I meant it, if I was doing what I was meant to be doing with my life, if I’d left a candle burning in my living room. Stop looking for pain. Stop creating negativity. Life is good. Be grateful. Inhale so, exhale hum. I am that. Stripped away of judgment, just me. The me I was with earlier, laying on my mat. It sort of worked.
Sometimes I find myself looking into the past, wishing I’d been more honest, brave, loving, and connected. (It’s funny how the small bumps in a long, lovely road are the ones that our minds always drive back to.) Then I look at my life now, and am so damn grateful for where and who I am. And I know that every bump in the road, even the ones that brought me to my knees, were somehow part of my flow. So when I catch myself looking backwards down my road, examining the bumps, or ahead, fearing the bumps I know will be there, I remind myself to trust.
The waves were higher in Condado than I’d expected. They didn’t appear powerful from the shore, but once I was waist-deep in the light blue water it became a constant game of jumping over or diving under. I held my nose but water still crept in, filling my mouth with the taste of brine and salt. The taste didn’t bother me — I love oysters and seaweed and other ocean foods — but the residual puffiness did. Once, I reacted too slowly and was knocked off my feet, tumbled against the rough bottom, sunglasses ripped away. Yet I stayed in the water, because it demanded my full presence.
I could spend the rest of my life trying to find the words to convey how I feel when I'm standing knee-deep in the ocean, diving under the waves, or floating on my back, held up by the salt water. Like everything makes sense and bliss and peace surround me. Like I'm feminine and powerful and could be swept away in a heartbeat. Like I'm part of something vast and beautiful that I don't really understand but don’t actually need to understand. Just honor and trust. I think this feeling is what it means to be a woman. I think this is what it means to be human.
Beautiful places can bring up the worst pain. I learned this as we drove through Iceland, surrounded by some of the most stunning works of art earth is capable of producing. Lush green hills that stretched for miles turned into black jagged cliffs piercing the sky turned into endless rolling blue waves. The beauty seemed to make the choking darkness inside me all the more pronounced. As I looked out the car’s window, I took a deep breath in, holding the clean air until I no longer could. Then I let it go, imagining my pain coming out with the air and disappearing into the land and sea.
I started coughing after dinner. A dry, hacking cough that seemed completely pointless yet couldn’t be stopped. The little numbers on my inhaler read 000. Nothing left. “There’s a urgent care center nearby,” our host said. I was scared of this — I didn’t know anything about the Indonesian healthcare system. I was more scared of not breathing, so we walked down the dusty sidestreet. The building was filled with children holding gaze to cut arms and men slouched with glazed eyes. The host accompanied me to the counter. Five minutes later, I walked out holding an inhaler and ginger herbs. The trip cost me less than $6.
The trailer parks and signs for boiled peanuts and tufts of cotton visible every now and then brought up a strange nostalgia. Not for the intolerance or racism of course, but for the energy that the South had, of magic and faith, community and sadness. But then, a hand-painted sign on the side of the road read, “America was great before 2008!” and on the back “Hillary Clinton is lying if her lips are moving.” I groaned. We passed by another lot of dilapidated trailers with broken cars out front, surrounded by dirt fields and new growth forests. A block of shops, most of the windows boarded up.
The last time I saw myself in this mirror I was a senior in high school, self-absorbed, insecure, applying too much eyeliner. Getting ready to go somewhere I wasn’t supposed to be, the thrill of rebelling combined with the resentment of not having the freedom I wanted. Meeting a boy. Smoking a cigarette. Staring into a bonfire, everything distant. It used to scare me, how detached I could become. How I could know myself one minute, and become a complete stranger to myself the next. Everything feeling like it would never change, like we’d be stuck in a bubble forever. Somehow life brought me back to this mirror.
Here’s the thing I’ve learned about being broken. The world doesn’t abandon you. You think you would be discarded, pushed aside for the pursuit of perfection, but this world doesn’t foster perfection. It fosters chaos, confusion, progress, and growth.
There’s an old Japanese art where broken pottery is repaired by filling the cracks with gold. This art form does not hide brokenness, it celebrates it. The breaks become a part of the object’s history and uniqueness, and make it stronger. Some collectors will smash valuable pieces of pottery so they could put them back together with gold.
They understand that brokenness is an opportunity for strength and beauty.
"Do you think about things people said years ago?”my acupuncturist asked as she placed needles in my neck. I imagined the release like a warm flood. “Do you think about things you said, and beat yourself up about them?" She had unknowingly summarized my last therapy session. I nodded, unable to look up from the table’s donut hole. "That's an earth trait," she said. "You need to practice release. Some people like to write on paper and dissolve it in water. But not you. You need to burn things. You have a lot of fire in you. Don't be afraid to burn things that need to go."
Sweaty shoulders and a dusky room. The day has been quiet, and its stillness melts into the evening.
My fingers spread wide on the mat, palms pressing down. I close my eyes. With each breath something opens and something softens. Something melts away. There are a few things in this world that make me feel connected, that lead me home. Yoga is one of them. The warmth of the room loosens me and I can breathe easier. For the first time today I notice the air coming in and out of me. It’s an easy cycle, going down into my belly and filling it, like a comforting meal.
I’m sitting at my dining room table, looking at the sun set over Atlanta. The dusty oranges and pinks and blue strike profoundly against the powerlines and graffitied walls. My hair is wet from the shower, my muscles are open from an intense workout, and I’m listening to music as I write. My loved ones are nearby and safe. We have dinner plans with friends tonight but right now everything is slow and delicious. I am so damn happy in this moment, and I’m letting myself completely feel that. I know this pure contentment won’t last long, but when it’s here, I want to completely melt into it.
I have an irrational fear of sharks. I grew up in landlocked towns in Georgia where there’s more wheat than water. My first adult home was Atlanta, with freshwater ponds and swimming pools. Then New York, a city surrounded by water but easily forgetting that it is. Speeding taxis, falling debris, food poisoning – those were legitimate fears in NYC, not large fish with teeth. As an adult, my childhood nightmares stopped, but the fear was still there, vague and shadowy. I finally realized it was never about the sharks. The real fear was the unexpected disaster. The real fear was how quickly we can get pulled under.