The Time is Ours

There’s a damp sweetness in the air as I brush my fingertips across a creamy-white shelf fungus clinging indifferently to a thick Doug Fir trunk. I walk onwards down the trail.

My heartbeat and the occasional gust of wind whispering through the leaves are the only sounds aside from the constant jingle of the creek. It rolls over slime encrusted rocks and trickles between a fallen branch, then eagerly winds around a bend. My boots clomp along, chasing its weaving liquid tresses. Clumps of wet loam, pine needles and decaying leaves cling to the waffle print on the undersides of my feet. I breathe in the fresh air.

If only I could savor this moment forever. A moment when my thoughts have dissolved into the forest, strained and cleansed by thousands of bristly tree hands reaching toward one another, touching. A moment when remembering comes without struggle. The sacredness of this home, this body, this life catches in my chest and I hold it there. Tears come, wind comes, and my heartbeat carries on drumming, pushing my legs to keep marching.

I glance at my right wrist – Be extraordinary – the engraved words shimmer between smooth leather encircling my wrist. Everything has changed since I bought the bracelet on a sunny San Diego afternoon 3 years ago.

Today is the birthday of a friend we lost at the too-young age of 27. And in just under a month from now, it will be the 2-year anniversary of the passing of a dear teacher who encouraged me to keep writing and to go see the world, which somehow, miraculously, I’ve now done. There are so many other things that have changed – some small, some big – the length of my hair, the ending and beginning of relationships, the city I live in, the dreams and heartaches I’ve birthed and witnessed, and seen loved ones through.

Time becomes such a strange entity as we grow older. Although it flexes and shrinks in harmony with our perspective and depth of experience, too often, it feels like it’s zooming by. I recently read a refreshing article, The Disease of Being Busy, and it made me wonder just how much our obsession with productivity impacts our perception of the precious minutes we’re each allotted to be here.

The author, Omid Safi, writes,

“When did we forget that we are human beings, not human doings?

What happened to a world in which we can sit with the people we love so much and have slow conversations about the state of our heart and soul, conversations that slowly unfold, conversations with pregnant pauses and silences that we are in no rush to fill?

How did we create a world in which we have more and more and more to do with less time for leisure, less time for reflection, less time for community, less time to just…be?”

In the absence of down time, we crave connection all that much more, and so we flock to social networks, checking our phones as if our friends actually reside inside the little square apps on the screen. Social media is so tempting because for a fraction of the time and effort it takes to interact face-to-face, we can get a hit of meaning and feel like we’re still a part of our loved ones’ lives. But in reality, we’re missing out on true human intimacy without real time spent with one another.

With our packed schedules, I’d also propose we’re missing out on intimate time spent with ourselves, examining our lives, dreaming of things yet to come, practicing our hobbies and wondering about who we are. If disease is a killer of the body, living on autopilot is death to the soul.

When I feel time whizzing by, I remind myself to do what makes me a human being again – I head to nature, I slow down, I write, dance, sing, cook my meals, listen to my heart’s musings, and tune back into the bigger picture.

The memories of the people who are no longer with us are a reminder of time’s preciousness. These moments are ours for the savoring. Why not spend them intentionally? What will YOU do this week to push pause on the “doing” and return to “being”?

My Nephew smelling a rose on a recent trip to the Portland Rose Garden.

My nephew smelling a rose on a recent trip to the Portland Rose Garden.

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Dancing with the Seasonal Blues

“I’m on the fence,” I said with one hip leaning against the doorframe and a hand on the other. “Do I go to bed early, or do I go dancing?”

My housemate Amber looked at me from across the hall, “Well, would you regret it if you didn’t go?”

I shifted onto the other foot, pushing myself upright, thinking.

“Probably,” I paused. “But I just don’t know if I have the energy to go out and interact with people right now.” She nodded, her blond hair casting an angelic glow into the dimly lit hallway between our bedrooms.

I knew she understood, and it was a relief to tell her how blue I was feeling without any shame.

I stood in the silence for a minute longer, moving my hair from where it rested on my upper back to the right side of my neck. It dangled above my shoulder, the ends settling against my collarbone. I breathed in slowly as the cool air swept its fingers across my skin, sending a little shiver down my spine.

Everything felt heavy. A part of me wanted to go to bed and sleep for a week straight, but I knew that wasn’t actually what I needed. My seasonal depression, although it has never been formally diagnosed, has become a familiar entity during the long gray months of Oregon’s rainy season. It has an uncanny ability to drop a veil between the world and me, causing a deep exhaustion and feeling of separation.

Standing in my socks on the hardwood floor, I watched Amber fold clothes and weighed my options. I didn’t want my depression to win.

“Okay, I’m going to do it!” I said suddenly, more to convince myself than her.

She smiled, looking up at me from the laundry pile on her bed. “Good! I think you’ll sleep better after dancing anyways!”

I already knew what I was going to wear: the vintage yellow dress with little red flowers perched atop dainty black stems that I’d brought home from a recent trip to Astoria, Oregon.

The dress had inspired a daydream when I first saw it hanging demurely on the shop rack. Suddenly I was wearing red lipstick, coyly shushing my billowing dress as a rugged, bearded man eyed me seductively from across the room. When I came to, however, I was still wearing blue jeans and tennis shoes, standing in the middle of a carpeted thrift store on a day characterized by looming gray clouds and sputtering rain. Such is life. But I knew the dress had to be mine.

Now it was just the thing I needed to convince me that heading out into the world on a gray Tuesday night would cheer me up. I slipped the dress over my head and hooked the metal tips of two shiny, round earrings through my earlobes. In front of the bathroom mirror, I ran a mascara brush twice through both sets of eyelashes, spritzed my neck with rose water and pulled on a pair of tan suede boots. The dress’ high waist and cheerful color made me feel feminine, and a little flicker of excitement leapt through my stomach before disappearing again into the lingering numbness I had been feeling all day. I stashed my black, suede-bottomed ballet slippers in my purse and zipped up a hooded fleece before calling “Bye!” to Amber on my way out the door.

The cherry-wood floor was glowing beneath golden lights. Old timey blues drifted out of the speakers and the ballroom was full of dancing couples. I was already glad I’d left the house.

In order to blues dance, you need two people – one to play the lead role (giving the non-verbal cues of where and how to move) and the other to play the follow role (listening to and following the lead’s cues to stay in sync). I prefer the follow role.

My first two dances didn’t flow, and I wondered if I’d be able to break through the numbness. I felt stiff and distant from my dance partner, still absorbed in my thoughts and disconnected from my body. But I kept at it.

“Would you like to dance?” I asked a man in a black collared shirt standing near the center of the floor. Dancers swayed and dipped in every direction around us. “I would!” he replied and extended a hand. I held on and we paused for a second, listening for the beat.

Dancing in Portland, 2012.

Dancing in Portland, 2012. Photo by Drew Tronvig.

The music was a traditional blues song, slow and earthy. I swayed my hips, feeling the light swish of my dress as it lifted on the breeze of my movement. He led me through a double spin and then we glided a few steps diagonally. We sidestepped, faced each other again, and then swayed low, knees bent, our torsos counterbalancing one another. Upright once more, he asked, “How is your day going?” The words momentarily broke the spell of my fog.

“It’s been alright, I guess. To be honest, I’ve been in a bit of a funk lately,” I said over the top of his right shoulder, feeling suddenly vulnerable and relieved at the same time to have told the truth.

He nodded his head – I felt the tension in his arm shift as the subtle movement traveled down through his neck muscles all the way to his wrist.

“Everyone feels that way sometimes,” he answered, reassuringly.

I took a deep breath and let the music resonate through my torso. I closed my eyes and surrendered; he dipped me, I followed, arching my head back expressively. As he pulled me back upright with a palm on the center of my upper back, I felt my hair momentarily lift into the air like two wings expanding when a bird takes its first leap off the branch into open sky.

We hugged each other at the end of the song and parted by saying thanks, each of us heading back into the crowd to find another dance partner.

Going into my next dance, I felt a little lighter. Perhaps it was the music, or the primal warmth of being touched, or the release of pressure by way of being real with another human being, even if for a moment. A little crack in my shell of depression had appeared, and I could peer through it to see the light on the other side.

A stout young man about my height with sandy brown hair stood facing me, our clasped hands were poised in mid-air at our sides as we waited for the next song to begin. Then with a subtle shift in tension, we began to move. Our torsos twisted in opposite directions, like two magnets repelling one another. We twirled as a pair twice and then came back to face each other, this time a little closer. My forehead brushed against his cheek and I noticed a gentle vibrating in his chest, as if a bee was hovering behind his rib cage. A few minutes later, I realized he was humming along with the music.

As we danced, I wondered how many other people came to the ballroom feeling depressed, alone, or sad.

Two summers ago, I’d learned a powerful healing technique for partner dancing during a blues dance immersion weekend (called an “Exchange”) where I attended workshops in-between river dips and late-night dances in the woods. During the third day of the Exchange, I took a course where we danced with a partner, while letting them feel anything they wanted to. Meanwhile, we supported them with the intention of ‘being there’.

An incredible thing happened when we tried this. Many of us reported feeling validated, empowered and connected to one another in a deep, profound way, even though we’d only just met. It was a life-changing moment for me and I thought of it now. Perhaps it would be a good night to try it again.

I’m here for you, I repeated silently in my mind. My partner was still humming as he lifted his arm to twirl me. The momentum caused my yellow dress to fly outwards, creating a sand dollar shape around my hips.

“What a pretty dress!” he proclaimed, smiling.

“Thanks!” My cheeks flushed pink.

I closed my eyes again, and surrendered to the movement; felt down into my feet, rooting me. The hardwood was stable and solid beneath the thin fabric of my ballet slippers. I’m here for you. He glided me across the floor, held me closer. I leaned in. I could feel every breath – both our hearts beating. The music suddenly felt alive, like a song coming through me. I was aware of the emotion our bodies exuded, and every subtle movement communicated a feeling.

Blues Dancing in Barcelona, Spain, 2013.

Blues Dancing in Barcelona, Spain, 2013.

Something dawned on me mid-way through the dance. I realized I was actually speaking to myself. I’m here for you, I kept repeating, each time softening a little more into the present moment, remembering how to love myself.

Gradually, the foggy shell of my depression melted away, and for the first time all day, my mind was clear, and I was present. I felt the soothing warmth of his hand as it cupped my lower back, guiding me. When the notes faded to a stop, we let go of one another to make eye contact. I was so grateful for the dance. We hugged each other before parting ways.

At the end of the night, I stepped outside onto the covered sidewalk. A block later, right after I’d left the shelter of the cover, rain poured down in glittering sheets. It was as if the sky was just waiting to dump a river of water right as I walked beneath its open arms.

I laughed, feeling like somehow it was a trick played just to test me.

Challenge accepted.

I held onto my purse and began to run. I let my jacket flap open, and felt the cool water wet my hair. I grinned as droplets slid down my cheeks and off my chin.

This is what life’s about after all. Dancing in the rain, dancing with the blues, stepping forward anyways, open. Open and alive.

—-

Check out this short video clip of my good friend Richard and I dancing! And some pictures…

Dancing in Portland, 2012.

Dancing in Portland, 2012. Photo by Drew Tronvig.

Dance Exchange in Seattle, 2012.

Dance Exchange in Seattle, 2012. Photo by Drew Tronvig.

Dancing in Barcelona, Spain, 2013.

Dancing in Barcelona, Spain, 2013.

The Gifts and Challenges of Being Highly Sensitive

There were so many things I wanted to write about tonight, like the way things feel really intense on a global scale right now (as I’m sure you’ve noticed). But when I step back and look at the threads of all my experiences woven together, there is something that runs through all of them like a creek – cool, clear and penetrable. The creek is my sensitivity.

I’ve been a sensitive being since the day I was born. What that means is I notice EVERYTHING. I notice scents and subtle changes in my environment, like a siren outside or the dimming of lights. I notice changes in people’s facial expressions and can read their shifting moods instantly. When I walk into a crowded room, I not only hear all the words people are saying, but I feel their energy, the good and the bad. I’m aware of tiny details all the time, like a ladybug on a leaf, or the way the grass moves in the wind, or the birds that fly overhead at the exact same time I cross the Columbia River on my way to work. I feel a whole lot. Another way of saying that is I’m an empath. That means that when people are hurting (whether they are loved ones or complete strangers), I often feel as if I’m hurting too. That’s in part why I avoid violent movies and media. I’m constantly aware of the needs of those around me and have zero tolerance for watching others suffer (i.e. bullying, excluding, etc.)

Interestingly, 20% of the human population is highly sensitive, which is the term used to describe an inherited trait that affects the sensitivity of the nervous system. If you happen to be one of these highly sensitive individuals, like myself, then this blog post is for you.

An open letter to the sensitive ones among us:

It’s true that the world can feel overwhelming, and love can feel daunting (if only because it enhances the immense amount of emotions you already feel). It can sometimes appear like you are the only one who feels as much as you do. But you aren’t alone. There are many of us out there.

Ups and downs happen to all people, but for you, those ups and downs might feel exaggerated. There will be moments of sheer exhaustion, fear, grief, and heightened vulnerability. But there will also be elation, joy, heart-opening bliss, deep connection with others, empowering self-awareness and humor. Your sensitivity can be challenging, but ultimately, it is a gift. No one on this planet feels as much as you do. You are truly alive, and you get to experience the widest range of emotions that some individuals never get to access.

Being highly sensitive comes with some responsibilities to take extra good care of yourself. Why? Because being over-stimulated regularly taxes the body, mind and spirit. You need to take time-outs to rest and rejuvenate, cry, write, run, process and whatever else makes you feel grounded. Sleep is of utmost importance.

When you do fall in love, don’t fear your emotions. Let them exist. It’s a beautiful thing to be moved so deeply, and if you are with the right person, they will see your sensitivity as a strength, not a weakness.

Know that your vulnerability in expressing your inner complexity to others is what makes you so strong and admirable. Communicating is also the only way to build intimacy and help others understand you, so learn how to do it, and do it passionately. There will probably be lots of questions you have, and processing, in general, that you want to do with the people you’re closest with. Sometimes, this makes you wonder if you’re worth the patience afforded to you. Believe me when I say, you are!

Highly sensitive people make wonderful friends, partners and leaders. You are big-hearted, but you can also be fragile, because things impact you on a larger scale than they do others. That’s okay. I believe there is strength in letting others see you for who you are. Be true to yourself, and learn your eccentricities. Try not to worry so much about how others perceive your unique traits. At the end of the day, the amount of love you afford yourself equals the amount of love you are able to give and receive, so in that department, go big!

Love,
A Highly Sensitive Friend You Haven’t Met Yet

Shells