What Dinosaurs and Love Have to Do With One Another

I lie on the cool ground and cover myself in a blanket of leaves, soil and moss. My childhood friend and I lie still, holding our breaths at first, but eventually relaxing into the arms of the earth. Minutes later, the ferocious dinosaur that’s been hunting us for miles passes us by. Just before I wake up from the dream, I watch him lumber off through the forest and dissolve into the horizon, and I feel a deep sense of peace.

What does this dream have to do with anything? you might be thinking. Well as silly as a dream about a dinosaur sounds, this tiny scene is actually full of wisdom, which I hope you might gain something from.

Here’s my interpretation…

In the dream, the earth, a manifestation and symbol of the feminine (love) energy, is a safe haven, salve and protector against the dinosaur, which represents antiquated, primordial fear. This fear is what our ancestors once felt, and what we, on a cosmic level, were initially born from. This is simply part of what makes us human. We all feel primal fear at times during our lives.

What are these fears? Although they vary, many of us experience the fear of truly entering life and “risking it all” to fulfill our purpose, while also equally fearing failure, death, separation, loss, vulnerability and intimacy.

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Fear is so powerful that it can alter our understanding of who we truly are. That’s why we need an antidote, and the antidote is love. Love is not conditional and it knows no boundaries. It can be felt as an openness and a receptivity to life, regardless of mood or circumstance. This life-giving feminine energy lives inside all of us, and is most fully embodied in mother earth, as we would not exist without the generosity of our planet to sustain us. Therefore, it is not a coincidence that in the dream, my friend and I find refuge in the earth (love), and that this is what causes the dinosaur (fear) to dissolve into the horizon, leaving us unscathed.

If I haven’t lost you yet, here’s what I see as the takeaway: you are love. Beneath all negative emotions, patterns of behavior, and external circumstances, you can access this powerful truth by breathing and opening you heart over and over again. It will take practice, and believe me, I am someone who needs lots of practice, but I do believe we are truly all capable of defeating fear by embracing love.

What’s that? You’re afraid of love? So what, as my boyfriend would say. Love anyways. Love through the fear; love past the fear. Love yourself, love your partner, love your friends, love your family, love your enemies, and love life! Keep in mind that love is not bothered by imperfections, so it isn’t about being flawless or void of darkness. Rather, when you realize there is a greater purpose love serves, to help you grow into your whole, most joyful, empowered and free self, you can embrace the places where you’re broken with compassion.

Love is who you are, even, and especially when, the dinosaur of your deepest fears comes gnashing his teeth, threatening to swallow you whole. When this happens — and if you’re human, it will happen often — return to openness, and let the feminine element of your soul remind you how to be vulnerable.

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When It Stinks: Thoughts for Hard Times

The storm grabbed ahold of everything and turned the world sideways and then upside down outside my window. Sheets of rain whipped at the panes, and the treetops howled in the wind. But inside it was warm and I sat protected by firm white walls and a sturdy roof.

Amidst the noise, I heard a knock at the door and when I opened it, I saw a pale face emerge from the dark. It was a young woman. Her dark hair was soaking wet and she was afraid. I looked into her pleading eyes and saw something eerily familiar.

I quickly ushered her in, and removed her wet coat, placing a reassuring hand on her back. She seemed to relax once inside the safety of my house. We stood there for a moment, looking at each other pensively. She smiled, and then I woke up.

This dream came at the tail end of an excruciating experience – three weeks of insomnia.

People stop sleeping for lots of reasons; physical, chemical and hormonal imbalances, stress, a change in lifestyle or excessive use of stimulants can all buck us off the Z’s. What was beneath my insomnia was anxiety. It gripped my throat at unpredictable times and forced me to stay in high alert, worrying about everything. The longer I went without sleep, the more my mind ran ragged with awful thoughts and the tighter my throat felt. Sleep (or lack thereof) became such a fearful experience for me that I’d dread nighttime. Long before the sun would set, I’d get pangs of panic in my stomach just from knowing that in a few hours I’d have to face another night of agony.

If you’re going through a hard time right now and especially if you’re having trouble sleeping, I want to tell you that this is TEMPORARY. I didn’t believe it when my doctor and loved ones told me this, but I wish I had, because they were right.

Around week two, I started having some irrational yet very real thoughts. I feared that I’d never again be the carefree and grounded person I once was. I wondered if I was going insane. I worried that I was broken and as my insomnia carried on, I worried I was becoming a burden to my loved ones. I’ve never felt so far from everything sacred – the people I love, my dreams, my work and most of all, my confidence.

Needless to say, boy have I learned a lot in the past few months!

In case it wasn’t obvious, shit’s been going down. One of the (tough) joys of being human is learning how to make shit into all sorts of useful things like poems, and artwork, and lasting relationships, and breakthroughs, and maybe even a special tonic that heals the deepest parts of yourself over a long period of time. The good news is that I’m currently in the metaphorical kitchen trying my hand at making all of these. If you are too, I want to give you a fist bump AND a hug. It takes courage, and you are a warrior for sticking with it! 

Here are some thoughts about things I’ve been learning lately:

1. Shit stinks, but it’s totally worth the stink if you can trust it’s the fertilizer growing your future (stronger, wiser and more powerful) self.

2. It will pass. Everything – every feeling, thought, fear, doubt and painful experience – will at some point pass. But we rarely have control over when it will pass. Trying to control when it will pass is when things get really messy. Which brings me to #3.

3. Control is overrated. Give in. Admit defeat. There are higher powers at work, and sometimes that’s god (or the universe, or your soul, or whatever you look to that is bigger than your ego self), and other time’s that’s your body. Let them work it out on their own time, and try to let go of it all needing to be a certain way (right now!).

4. If someone offers you a shoulder to lean on during your darkest hours/days/weeks/months, say yes please, thank you, and I love you! Trust that they wouldn’t offer it if they didn’t mean it, and let yourself be taken care of for a change. This means you have to BE VULNERABLE. In doing so, you will be taking one of the most important steps to getting back to wellness.

5. Did I mention vulnerability heals? Talk to your friends and family. Reach out to other people who have been through something similar. Be honest and let them know what you’re struggling with. I was blown away by how many close friends of mine had been through periods of sleeplessness and severe anxiety, but I wouldn’t have known that if I hadn’t opened up to them about my own. Just knowing they could empathize was incredibly comforting, and they had awesome advice! More on vulnerability here.

6. Something will work eventually. Keep researching and experimenting. Never give up! What has worked for me has been a combination of meditation, exercise, supplements and acupuncture.

7. You don’t have to be in mint condition in order to have fun. My boyfriend and I took our first trip together after I hadn’t slept for two weeks, and surprise – I had a ton of fun! Even though I was still very anxious and very sleep deprived, continuing with our vacation plans was the right thing to do. The trip gave me the boost of positive energy I needed and reminded me that life is still a verb even when shit’s really hard and you want to just sit down and not move for a very long time.

8. Actually, it turns out that sitting down and not moving for a short, focused amount of time is really, really good for you, especially if you’re prone to anxiety, depression or sleep difficulties. I’m currently taking a mindfulness meditation class, and it’s helping me tremendously. Here’s an article on the health benefits of mindfulness meditation, based on a study conducted at Northern Arizona University.

9. You don’t have to believe your thoughts. I’ve been learning that everyone has painful or fearful thoughts but whether or not you listen to them is the key differentiator between a person experiencing anxiety and someone who isn’t. If a thought isn’t helpful, then it can be labeled as just a thought, not THE TRUTH. I’m told this takes a lot of practice to master, but it’s worth the time and effort to come even remotely close to that. Just imagine if you could hear your thoughts and let them drift by without the struggle of analyzing them or worrying about what they’re telling you every minute of every day. Not to state the obvious, but it would feel really, really good.

10. In order to feel joy, you must be willing to feel discomfort. Resisting and avoiding discomfort or pain shuts down your ability to feel all the good stuff. Flex new muscles and sit with the icky feelings. They will transform you and then move on, because that’s what they were meant to do.

I started this post with a description of a dream I had because I think it holds important symbolism. In the dream, I am both the person running from the storm and the wise one who opens the door and provides a safe shelter. You are both of those people two. So the question is, how can you encourage your wise self to open the door and comfort your fearful self? And what would they say if they could speak to one another?

“Difficult times have helped me to understand better than before how infinitely rich and beautiful life is in every way, and that so many things that one goes worrying about are of no importance whatsoever.” -Isak Dinesen

 

With One Knee on the Ground, I Asked the North Sea to Marry Me

I stood bewildered at the bus stop reading the words This stop is no longer in service. But I had just bought a ticket at the bus station and this is where they told me to go…I tried to remain calm, but my bus was due in 5 minutes and there wasn’t time to walk back to the station to ask questions. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, a voice beside me says “Tell me where you are trying to go and I will see if I can help you.” He already had his smart phone out looking up my bus number before I could finish my sentence. After a few minutes of fruitless searching on his phone, I happened to look up the street just in time to see my bus pulling up to the curb one block up and on the opposite side of the street from where we were standing.

“There it is!” I shouted.

The kind stranger patted the back of my pack, like you might lovingly encourage a horse to run, and said “Run in front of the bus and wave your arms in the air. Safe travels!”

I hardly had time to thank him as I galloped down the uneven cobblestone like a bag lady with a limp, but I made it! It started to rain while I stood in line to board the bus and another man offered a gesture of kindness. He tried to speak to me in what I recognized as Italian and I shook my head to show I didn’t understand. Then he popped open his umbrella and motioned for me to come underneath it. I shyly obliged, feeling touched by his generosity. We stood huddled under his umbrella until we both boarded.

Later, during the two hour drive north, his wife leaned over her seat and asked me a question in Italian. I could tell she was uncomfortable so I made the motion for being cold, hoping I had guessed correctly. She nodded enthusiastically, returning the gesture of rubbing her arms and shivering. I reached into my bag and offered her my jacket. At first she refused it, but upon a second offering, she took it gratefully. Her husband, the man who held the umbrella for me, turned around and gave me a big smile and thumbs up. My heart swelled and I felt so glad I could return the kindness he had shown me. 

Meanwhile, the tall bus was careening around corners on an insanely narrow two lane road at a speed that caused the vehicle to wobble side to side. There were two old women sitting next to me across the aisle, gabbing away. I kept using them as a gauge for whether or not to be afraid for my life, but they seemed unphased, so I turned on my music, strapped on my seat belt and snapped my motion sickness wristbands on. The only thing left to do was take in the breathtaking scenery zooming by outside the window. There were vibrant lettuce green hills scattered with bright pink clouds of blooming wildflowers, pastures dotted with grazing sheep, and fields of plants that were a deep aqua green at the base and a light sage green on top. Watching them billow in the wind, rippling color across the hill nearly brought tears to my eyes. Then as we screamed around a bend, my eyes beheld something even more beautiful. A carpet of velvet green hills led down to a silver blue sea, shimmering in the sun and perfectly calm without any waves. Near the water’s edge sat a crumbling foundation of a castle or other ancient building. It was something out of a dream.

Little did I know that Pittenweem, a small fishing village perched cheerily by the sea along Scotland’s Fife Coast, would bring me to my knees in reverence.

I am staying with fellow couchsurfers, Michael and Tara, a sweet couple from New Zealand, in a little cottage across from the harbor which is still heavily used by Pittenweem’s fishermen. The main street of the village leads to an ancient chapel decorated in circular flower-like stained glass and skirted by an old graveyard with tombstones from the 1600’s. The homes are either white washed with colorfully painted doors, or bolder hues of turquoise, gold, purple and various shades of blue. Most of the homes have red tile roofs, due to Scotland’s past trading with The Netherlands, I read online. Almost all of the town’s buildings have baskets of colorful flowers hanging out front, and I have seen three bicycles that have been turned into little gardens. I can walk around the whole village in about 10 minutes. Small alleys with steps lead from the harbor and glossy ocean to the main street and then further down, the mouth of the Fife Coast Trail which connects five villages together, north and south of here. Michael and Tara walk a couple miles each way to do their grocery shopping, since the neighboring village has a super store. Pittenweem has only one tiny grocery store connected to the pharmacy and the post office.

From the edge of the sea, I can look north and see rugged cliffs covered in waving grasses and dark rocks scattered below at the lip of the shoreline. It is so gorgeous, I cried watching the sunset on my first night here. I feel as if I have arrived home. As a girl, I always dreamt of seeing Scotland. Now that I am here, I can’t imagine leaving. I want to marry the North Sea so there will always be a reason to return. I may be an odd bride for such a graceful sea, but I promise to never forget the passion I feel in its presence. Here, I am whoever I want to be. In the quiet, slow-paced life of Pittenweem, I can feel my wings unfolding.

Over dinner of local smoked salmon, oat cakes with creamy, fresh butter and a cup of hot black tea in the little tavern, I wrote postcards trying to share a little piece of this gem of a town with my loved ones. Although I have caught a bad cold/flu and have had to postpone my flight to Amsterdam, I am happy to be staying here a few more days. I was in bed all day yesterday, but even a glance out my second floor window overlooking the sea cheered me up and probably did something unseen to help me heal quicker. I went to the pharmacy to get something for my swollen throat and it was like seeing a doctor while standing at the cash register. The man asked me about my symptoms and then gave me his recommendations. I am amazed at how simple and inexpensive it is to get medical attention here.

When I am feeling better, I am going to see the cave after which Pittenweem is named (Pittenweem means cave in Gaelic). The story goes that a saint or holy man took residence in the cave which has a natural spring in it. People from surrounding areas would come see him to get healed and the saint was said to have done some miraculous things. Eventually, a community sprung up around the cave and a harbor was built, enabling the town’s economy to grow. The cave has been preserved and functions as a little chapel for ceremonies and gatherings. Anyone can see it by asking for the key at the only coffee shop in town.

This place is nothing short of magical! I am most likely the only American staying here and everyone has been so kind to me. They seem surprised that I would travel all the way from Oregon to see their little village, but I assure them how worth the trip was to get here. I feel so grateful for the kindness of strangers, the beauty of Scotland and for the love and support of friends and family while I have been sick. Now to rest so I can get over this cold and go for a hike by the sea.

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