Turning back: A lesson from Flat Top Mountain 

“Flat Top Mountain? Well sure it’s just about seven miles from the city,” welcome center volunteer, Bob assured us with a wide grin as he pointed out the mountain on a map. 

“Now some people hike all the way up it but that’s not for me,” he continued, scratching at the bout of white hair atop his head. “There’s a nice little over-look though at the base and that’s only a short walk and you can see all of Anchorage.” 

My husband and I scurried off to the mountain and after a brief appreciative moment or two at the overlook area, we were ready to ascend Flat Top Mountain. The trail was covered in packed snow and lined with coniferous trees not tall enough to hide the looming white faced mountain ranges that encircled us. 

After clearing a small stretch of trees, the trail opened up spaciously in every direction revealing Flat Top in all her glory. 

“So we actually get to the very top from this trail?” I questioned, more to myself, as I cupped my hand over my eyes blocking the sun. I squinted at the mountain top and saw several tiny moving grains of rice that represented three people who had completed the climb. 

“Look they are parasailing!” Adam exclaimed as he squinted and pointed towards one the grains of rice who was now airborn, gliding slowly around the mountain on a bright blue and yellow parasail. I watched as the flyer’s shadow cast out over the mountain top. I wondered how far he could see. 

“Let’s go so we have enough day light to get up there,” I said decisively, surely I wasn’t going to let parasail man have all the fun today. 

Our hike continued with only minor inclination. We laughed and talked about Alaska and our brimming excitement after being on our trip for only one day. I couldn’t quite explain it yet, how Alaska was making me feel. It was kind of like coming home. I decided Curtis Welch, an Alaskan doctor in Nome, Alaska in the 1900s, described it best when he said Alaska provided plenty of room for him to stretch out his soul. Stepping out of the airport yesterday and seeing those mountains had been like stepping out of a small room you hadn’t realized you had been cramped in most of your life. There was this freeness and eagerness in my spirit. 

Adam turned to me while pointing to the trail ahead, small, iced-over footprints that inclined, almost vertically up the rest of the mountain. 

“I don’t know if we can do that,” he said, as he pushed his foot over the prints, testing their slickness. 

“I mean, even if we make it up, can we make it back down?” 

I frowned at the trail and turned my head to look up the rest of the mountain. The parasailers and tiny specks of humans were gone. 

“Yes. We can do it. I’m fine,” I stated decisively as I began my ascent. 

Before we knew it, we were half way up the ever steepening and icy incline. 

“I think we need to go back,” Adam said. His brow furrowed. “I mean look down there. I’m not saying we’d die but we would get seriously hurt hitting those rocks if we fell.” 

But the thing about turning back is that it feels like giving up. It feels like you chose comfort and simplicity over perseverance and challenge, and that doesn’t feel good. After some discussion, I reluctantly agreed to turn back. No sooner did I turn around and set my first foot in front of me did I realize just how difficult going back down was going to be. My foot slipped. I wavered and crouched until I basically crab walked my ass down the vertical part of that trail. 
Adam was right. We weren’t prepared for this. We were the Cincinnati tourists with no metal spikes in our shoes and no real experience mountain climbing. But somewhere along that slipping and sliding and ass-scooting descent of shame, I realized something. 

The sun warmed my face as I carefully meticulously placed each foot in the next most trustworthy and least slick appearing spot. What a sight we must be! I thought as my fear suddenly became humourous and turned into a moment of laughter. I turned around to check on Adam and smiled, he was scooting too. 

Maybe it is okay to turn back, I decided. After all, there is honor and humility in realizing your limitations and making decisions within that acknowledgement. It makes you real, authentic and capable within your own abilities. There is no shame in realizing we are small, in understanding our vulnerabilities. 

As we drove away, I watched Flat Top Mountain become smaller in the distance. I studied her rocky edges and snow blanketed face. Maybe one day I’ll make it to the top. She’ll still be here waiting and my soul certainly won’t let this be the last time I come to Alaska. I think it too needs all this space to stretch out. 

A snow covered valley in Girdwood, Alaska 


There’s just something about the mountains. Majestic, unwavering, awe-inspiring in their sheer magnitude. Sometimes it’s just good to stand there in observance of them and allow yourself to feel small. It’s good because when you are small, staring up at those snow caped peaks, your problems are small too. Your worries, insecurities, mistakes, doubts all seem even smaller in comparison. The realization of the smallness of what consumes your mind leaves way for greater contemplation, appreciation and the pathway for a more authentic existence. 

When one stands in reverence of mountains so great, it’s difficult to not see God’s fingerprints. The delicacy and intricacy one might appreciate in a piece of finely constructed pottery, one can also observe in the mountains. Staring up at the mountains and the large areas of coniferous forests, vast shadows splayed out on the areas untouched by the sun, jagged rock cliffs, one has to be sparked with at least an inkling of curiosity of where they came from. 

Mountains change your perspective too. This idea of feeling small, those massive yet intricate fingerprints of creation, how changed you feel in the midst of it all, you walk away at least little bit different every time. You walk away with an invitation for a more authentic existence. 

While spending time in Girdwood, Alaska, yesterday I took an evening run just before sunset. I remained mindful of each footstep, pacing myself while still being cautious for patches of ice on the trail. That is when the trees opened up and revealed a snow covered valley splayed out almost endlessly in every direction, mountains completely surrounding me. I stopped running and listened to the quiet. That’s the thing about quiet, it has its own sound. Thick, blanketing snow like that has an absorbing quality. As you stand there breathing and listening it somehow has a way to make your soul feel full. 

As I stood there, I allowed the very essence of me to absorb that realization of my smallness. And being small, nothing more than a single snowflake in the bigger picture of time and eternity, I couldn’t help but decide that purpose is so important. If we are small and life is fleeting, why don’t we live more of our lives as if that is true? Instead of seeking comfort and getting caught up in routine, why don’t we mindfully live every second to fulfill the purpose that each of us individually was born with inscribed in our very being? I became more still in that valley, my breath an ever appearing and disappearing cloud against the warm glow of a setting sun against the encircling range of mountain tops. 

When I started to run again, with the snow crunching under each of my feet and the blood in my veins becoming fuller with my quickening strides, I knew I was a little different. I remembered that I was small, yet significant. I remembered my life was fleeting yet this was all the more reason to live in a way that honors that realization. Because when you know something and live in a way that is consistent with that, you are authentic. And feeling authentic feels like standing at the base of an awesome mountain. 

What brought you to Alaska?


“So what brought you to Alaska?” My first go-to question when I found out someone was not born and raised in the ‘last frontier.’ My husband and I have only been in Alaska for three days and already the people we have met and their stories have been as fascinating and wild as the mountains and uncharted nature the state is known for.

Me asking this question all stated on the plane ride to Anchorage. The man sitting next to me came to Anchorage for a military assignment, “A long time ago,” and decided to stay. Our conversation progressed and he shared that since life is so temporal, fleeting, you may as well spend it where you want, doing what you want. He scrolled through photos on his phone of his kayak business he now owns in Alaska. They were pictures of smiling people and families against blue ocean waters with the backdrop of breathtaking glaciers. “After all, that’s the only thing we truly know in life right? That one day we are all gunna die. Everyone, everywhere. Death is an awesome equalizer,” he grinned a little wider as he said it. I nodded as he continued to scroll through photos on his phone. He ran his fingers over his wirey grey beard contemplatively, still smiling as he observed each of his photos with the upmost attentiveness. As if he were seeing each photo for the very first time. I glanced past him at the mountain range visible through the small plane window as we prepared to land in Anchorage, pinks and oranges of a setting sun splayed out over the perfect canvas of snow covered mountains. How could you not look at this everyday as if it were your first time seeing it? I thought. Maybe no matter where you live, though, that’s a good outlook to have, I decided as the pilot captain came over the speaker preparing us passengers for landing.

 
In the welcome center, we met a smiling, jovial, white haired with multiple missing teeth, visitor-center-volunteer. He eagerly showed my husband and I travel brochures and recommended areas to pull off the highway for photo opts. I naturally started to assume he was a born and raised in Alaska with his affinity for all things Anchorage, but after we asked for some travel tips for our voyage to Seward, Alaska, he smiled wide and placed his hand near his heart. “I have a soft spot for Seward,” he said, his voice a little softer and more serious. “See that’s where I decided to jump ship. I jumped off a boat when I saw those mountains, swam for shore, hitch hiked to Anchorage and been here ever since.” Jumped ship? How indescribably fascinating, I thought. But as I started to ask him more, he scurried off to assist a free-spirited looking man with a large backpack asking for directions. I watched him pointing exaggeratedly to assist the lost winter traveler. I guess sometimes you just know where you are supposed to be, I thought. Maybe I too could be more forward about things in life. When you know, you just know and that should move you to action. Hell, even if that means jumping into ice laced seas to get there.

 
I soon learned that not everyone who migrated to Alaska was running to the last frontier. Some people come to Alaska because they are running from things.
During a sled dog tour we met a guy, late twenties, dark hair and weathered skin, wearing layers of well broken-in snow apparel. His handling of the dogs and sled equipment came second nature as if he had been doing this forever. But he later shared that he was from Hawaii and came to Alaska because he was running from an ex girlfriend. Like literally running, fearing-your-life-and-safety running. “I gotta apologize if I seemed rude, I’m just a little jaded still,” he said to me as he pointed to where to sit on the sled. “Understandably so..” I said shaking my head as I took my seat on the sled. I guess if you’re going to run from someone, Alaska would be the place to do it, because apparently she hasn’t found him yet.

 
While in a local diner we met a woman with long blonde hair and the kind of blue eyes that can be described as piercing. She asked where we were from before she took our order, “No shit! That’s where I’m from too!” She exclaimed when we told her. We went on to share stories about changes that have occurred in the area over the past 20+ years since she’s been there. “I figured it hadn’t changed much. That’s why I left ya know,” she said as she placed the napkin squares down for our drinks and started to pour glasses of water. “See I was a loud, opinionated, outspoken women and in my time that didn’t fly. I wasn’t going to change who I was so as soon as I graduated from high school, I started traveling the world. I came here to see the northern lights and have been here ever since.” She smiled wide and looked up slightly. “You know I’ve thought about that place from time to time, but I have never looked back. I have never regretted making the decision to leave.” I smiled back at her and nodded. Because sometimes that’s the best thing you can do, look at someone in the eye, smile and absorb their words with your very being. A piece of me connected with her in that moment, that search for belonging and a place that accepts you as you are. And I was happy for her, truly happy for her.

Leaving the diner we drove along the mostly frozen waters lined with snow covered mountains and blue bird skies. I can see why people would live here, I thought as I closed my eyes and allowed the midday sun to cover my face.

Play Therapy: The Sacred Space

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“So what do you do for a living?” The mundane, conversation-starter question that all of us have faced and asked others from time to time. The funny thing about answering that question when you are child therapist who practices play therapy, is that many people aren’t sure how to respond. Sometimes I’ll get an “Oh that sounds fun, playing with kids all day,” I smile at this because it is, it certainly is fun. And when I am in these conversations, I continue to smile and nod as the dialogue moves onto weather and other avoid-talking-about-anything-real-with-a-near-stranger topics. But I keep thinking about that word. “Fun.” I think about it because “fun” doesn’t truly acknowledge the healing, growth, resiliency, and capacity for change that I have experienced in the play room. Fun doesn’t explain the sacred space and time where play becomes a window into the subconscious, an opportunity for expressing and exploring underlying emotions, a release and way to process unresolved trauma. Fun doesn’t explain how everyday, it changes me too.

Through play therapy, I have witnessed baby dolls being diapered and feed by children who are re-nurturing themselves, healing from the neglect, they may not consciously, but visercially do remember experiencing in infancy. I have seen and felt the horror of domestic violence as it is played out in the dollhouse by children who need to share their scariest memory with someone who will bear to witness to, validate, and share in the weight of that fear and vulnerability. I have watched as children build Lego towers and walls with guards to protect their safe places from the gun shots and the community violence they experience daily in their own neighborhoods. I have played scribble release games that led children and teens to experience enough comfort to be able to share their previously hidden suicidal thoughts for the first time.

Play therapy is serious healing business.

I have been privileged to be the one to provide the attuned presence as problems are resolved, social skills are learned and stories are rewritten. I have seen the beauty that comes from children releasing their internal world of imagination and realizing it belongs solely to them and cannot be jeopardized by any external force. When children feel safe enough to share their internal light of pure vulnerability through their play, it is an honor to witness and to hold that special space for the magic to happen.

It is such an inspiring thing, watching the walls of inhibition come crumbling down in the playroom. I have even seen adults and parents initially question or scoff at the idea of using play in therapy but then be brought to tears at the beautiful restoration and resiliency that comes to fruition in the play room. I have had tough-guy dads ask if they can make a glitter bottle too. Foster parents smile and celebrate as children act out coping skills and emotions with puppets that previously were ineffective being learned about and expressed verbally. I have seen mothers in shock and delight as their child and his or her siblings work together to build kindness trees and then begin to show empathic behaviors and interactions.

Play therapy works.

Play works because play is a language we all speak. Even if we have become removed from it in our adulthood, at one time, we all spoke it. And it is spoken everywhere. Whether rolling old tires joyfully down the dusty roads of Uganda or rocking a baby doll to sleep in a chilly New York apartment, everyone speaks the primal, human language of play.

But being a play therapist can also be tough. Heavy at times. Like snow falling down softly. I get so caught up in watching it, so inspired, I forget it is actually piling up. And at times I forget that, at the end of the day, I have to go home. I will have to navigate through those unplowed roadways and transition into other areas of my life. Areas of my life where I am not Ms. Sargent the play therapist. I forget I’ll have to go home and find a way to answer the question, “How was your day today?” I will forever be searching for ways to answer that question that offer even a glimpse of truth and meaning and light, but I am never quiet able to.

I once had a child say to me after a therapy session, “Thank you for letting kids come here and do what they need to do.” I was so humbled by this comment. That exactly is what play therapy is about. The sacred space where healing happens at the very hands of the brave children who have always had the capacity for change and growth within them.

And at the end of the day, even after my toys are back where they belong, even after the glitter has been vacuumed up and after the paint has been cleared off the easel, there is an energy still present in the room. A pulsating mixture of resonating emotions that lingers beyond the end of therapy sessions. The room is quiet yet alive with the finger prints of the souls who have come and who have “done what they needed to do.”
And this, well this is something that is hard to explain to someone. This is something that isn’t just “fun.” This, is play therapy.

Lone Wolf: Howls of the Free Spirit

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The midnight moon glow envelops the sleeping forest. Insects and frogs create a steady symphony where hundreds of different sounds become one tune. The cloudless sky, freckled with stars, splays out endlessly in every direction.

All is one in the night and yet one is alone. Alone darting through the trees, her shining fur coat pulsates with her running strides. Her quickening breath becomes a cloud in the cool night air. She comes to a clearing and stops. The stars reflect in her everlastingly black eyes as she lifts her head to the sky. She howls. The moon listens until her voice fades into the crickets’ song. Everything is one and yet one is alone…

As you grow older you learn more about yourself. Probably because you are stuck with yourself all of the time. And the more time you spend with yourself, even if you only engage in a minimal amount of self reflection, the more you realize what makes you tick. And as you learn more about yourself, you learn more about others. You begin to search for a pack like you. People with like value systems, likes and dislikes, ways of understanding the world.

I have found that I, on the other hand, am a loner. Not the hermit, hoarder, haven’t-left-the-house-in-years kind of loner. The kind of loner who can be smiling and surrounded by people yet nevertheless, alone. The kind of loner who realizes she’s a square peg with only circle holes. The kind of loner who can be at a party full of laughter and dancing and yet really it’s just her, just her and the moon.

I’ve always been a free spirit. I was the kid who wanted to grow up and live in the rainforest so I could tie myself to trees before they were bulldozed. I was the kid that questioned instead of followed most social constructs and lost plenty of friends over arguments about them killing spiders. Once when someone gave me a toy doll I pretended she was an orphan I found while traveling the globe.

One could argue that this “lone wolf” identity was something I born with. I do believe I was. I am also a magnet for the messy things in life and I believe that too has changed me. I have been humbled, honored and changed by both my career in social work and opportunities I have had to volunteer both locally and abroad.

Being free spirited is often difficult. Running alone is different than running with a pack. You have to watch your own back. And from time to time, you even have to gaze at your reflection in the water to validate and remind yourself that you still exist. Being a lone wolf can be frustrating, sad, and disheartening at times. Not to mention running from the terror of mediocrity and routine can get quite tiring.

But there is a beauty in being free spirited. There is honor in appreciating the grey in life. There is integrity in speaking up when no one else does and offering genuine, heart-driven ideas and perspectives. Our very histories are written in the echoed howl of lone wolves who have gone before us.

When you are a free spirit, you have three choices, you can be quiet, you can try to become a circle peg, or you can howl at the moon. You can howl even if no one is listening. Because when you realize there is meaning, direction and beauty in who you are, you allow your voice to be heard.

And even if only the moon is listening, the moon changes the world everyday.

The Leaf I Found: Thoughts on Embracing Change

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Holding my hand up to the sun, I watch as the brightness shines through the leaf I am holding revealing the tiniest pathways of branching veins. I twirl the stem between my fingers and squint while watching the orange leaf dance against the backdrop of the bright blue, mid-day sky. The leaf has a hole in the center. A hole in the shape of a butterfly. I found it that way. A symbol of internal metamorphosis in the midst of the transforming autumn leaf. Change changes us too. I tuck the leaf between the pages of a book I brought along, and continue down the wooded trail towards the sound of flowing water.

 

 

Just a week before this backpacking trip, my husband and I were sitting in the back of our last foster parent certification class. We were sitting there eating semi-stale Doritos off of small square napkins and listening to a current foster parent share her stories and experiences over the past several years.

“Let me just say,” the guest speaker concluded, “The first month or so of having a child placed in your home will feel like your life is turned upside down, then you just start doing life with them.” Life with them, the words felt heavier to me than she perhaps intended. How powerful and humbling and hard it is, to allow all of someone into your life, all of them, unconditionally. To allow someone in and then to keep moving forward, it’s a big thing.

We drove home in the cold winter rain and the windshield wipers created a steady tune with the faint muffled noise of radio ads in the background.

“Well that class was more real. What they were talking about at least, seemed pretty honest,” Adam said.

“Yeah,” I agreed as I watched droplets on the car windshield reflecting the red tail lights of cars in the night. “So we could have a kid in a couple months by the time we turn in the last of this stuff,” I felt my stomach tighten at the sound of my own spoken words.

Adam nodded as he adjusted the speed of the windshield wipers. He turned to me and smiled with a little raise of his eyebrows, “Yeah, we could.”

 

Change can be terrifying. With it can come danger and change itself threatens the comfort of the status quo. But with change, there is usually also light, light that leads to altered, widened perspectives. That is because change, changes us too. It is impossible to step out of a season of change the same person who stepped in, it just doesn’t work that way.

 

 

 

We’ve reached the water’s edge just before dusk to set up camp and I climb up onto a large rock and watch the moving water. The rock feels cold and I can see my breath. Maybe the next time we camp it won’t just be us, I think. Maybe the next time we will be doing life with someone else too. I open my book and the little leaf hops out, caught on a soft breeze. I catch it and hold it up to the sky again. The sun shines through the hole in the leaf, creating a bright little butterfly shape centered in the shadow of the leaf itself. I tuck the leaf back into my book and watch the steady disappearing and reappearing cloud of my breath against the setting sun. I watch as the water just keeps moving forward.

 

Jamaican Police Sirens: A Moment that Changed Me

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So what’s your story?, a question that has always left me scrambling and wondering how one story could even begin to summarize the essence of who someone is. Maybe my problem with this question stems more from the fact that I have always been a story teller. Whether it is verbalized, written, or through artistic expression, every day I am noticing and attempting to encapsulate the stories of my life.

And maybe it is for this reason that I believe one’s story is more so a spider web of thousands of intersecting stories glistening and reflecting the little rays of light that make up we are.  But I suppose if I had to choose just one story from my life, it would begin along the back drop of a bright blue Jamaican sky and fade off with police sirens in the distance. Yes, I suppose this would be my story…

I had stepped off the plane surrounded by excited tourists brimming with big hats, overpacked bags and no intention of ever setting foot where I was going. I practically floated out of the airport on my altruistic hopes of changing the world in the three short weeks I had there. It was my first volunteer trip.

One morning, our group was walking to the local school with the lesson plans we had prepared. I could feel the sweat beginning to run down my back and trickle between my shoulder blades. The humidity of the mountains left me constantly sticky and my skin had started to smell like pineapple because of how much of the fruit I had been consuming.

I had nervously shuffled my feet on the dusty floor of the classroom as the students stared, frowning and seemingly confused at the children’s story I was reading to them. A woman from the school leaned over, “Sorry. They don’t know what elephants are…” she whispered as she pointed to the one of the characters in the children’s story. I felt my face get hot, I hadn’t thought of that. Why hadn’t I thought of that? Someone else jumped in to help and began explaining an elephant by comparing it to a donkey.  I watched as the students’ faces softened accompanied by some understanding nods.

I lifted my gaze to the rectangle window cut outs in the walls to see older children who had sardined themselves into the space, vying for a spot to see and hear the lesson. Their eyes were wide and curious. I could feel their eagerness and desperation as they leaned forward, practically falling into the building. Their tattered t-shirts were covered in that rich, red dirt and their flip flops looked as if they had been broken and mended hundreds of times. I knew that they were older children with no money for school fees or who had dropped out to help work for their families. It wasn’t the first time I had seen the effects of poverty. It was, however, the first time my altruistic ideals had been anchored in the ugly, sad reality of the way things were. It was the first time I felt small in the midst of it. Very small.

Walking back to where we were staying, our group took the scenic route near the beach. Along the way, we passed the outside perimeter of an “all-inclusive” resort. The looming walls revealed only tiny passing glimpses of the inside but even the swaying palm trees within appeared fuller, tended too. More tended to than the children with the broken sandals.

As we walked, I watched those palm trees moving in the breeze and I felt a little angry, but mostly, defeated. For a moment I imagined myself if I had come to Jamaica under different circumstances, if I had come on the other side of the vacationing walls. I imagined myself lounging, holding some fruity drink, admiring the turquoise calm waters. And if I was there, would I ever wonder about what was outside of the compound? Would the glamorous experiences of the resort be enough to cloud any fleeting concern that may arise in my consciousness? Would that me know that most all of the “all-inclusive” resorts are privately owned exploiting the beautiful beaches and allowing little, if any, money to the local people and economy itself? Maybe. But maybe that-me would just sip her cocktail and choose to forget.

In the distance, sirens began to howl and I shook myself from my daydream as local children ran ahead to get closer to the scene. I could feel the prickle of adrenaline rush under my skin as we were informed there was yet another murder that day. I glanced back at the walls. Would anyone in the resort be able to hear the sirens? Would they ever find out someone else had lost their life to the endless community violence plaguing the area just outside of their vacationing walls? Probably not. 

My stomach churned as I envisioned myself in the resort again, relaxing under the shady palms and dismissing the faint sirens in the distance. But I have spent most of my life in those walls. I have allowed the walls of mediocrity, comfort, and routine to creep up and swell around my vision. My mind was suddenly awakened to all of times I have chosen blindness instead of realizing the suffering and responsibility I have for the most vulnerable people of the planet. And as the sirens faded into the thick summer air, I became different. This new perspective changed not only how I saw things, it also changed me.

I had come to Jamaica with ideals of peace and social justice, but the most significant part of that trip was the moment when I declared war. It was that day that I started a battle against the walls of comfort in my life. A constant fight to free myself from the haziness and attempt to see the world in a way that it truly is and, most importantly, the impact of all of my choices on others.

I imagined the vacationing-me again. But this time she hears the sirens. This time she rises and moves towards the walls. She looks different, stronger. She is focused and intentional with every step as she tosses the fruity drink behind her and leaves the resort, never looking back.

And I know that there are millions of stories that have shaped me and given meaning and perspective and value to my life. But if I had to choose one story to be my story, this one alone comes pretty damn close.

Running in the Snow: Some Thoughts on Process

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I’m sitting there on the trail with snow and mud covering my legs. The thick mittens on my hands did little to brace me once I lost my balance. Adrenalin from my fall is still prickling my temples and the skin on my forearms. My dog is looking back at me with a mixture of concern and irritation from me half dragging him back down the hill once I slipped. I sigh exaggeratedly and watch my breath become a cloud in the cold winter air. Just for a moment I allow myself to entertain that thought again. The reason why I even do it. The reason why I run in the snow.

Working as a mental health therapist I once had a wise supervisor who taught me a little about the importance of process. I had expressed my frustrations to her about a client who created art in therapy sessions. Beautiful, telling, healing art that revealed his feelings, thoughts, perhaps even subconscious desires only to then destroy it, dismiss it, throw it away reporting it wasn’t good enough.
My supervisor had said, “It’s about the process, the journey that takes him there. What do you think his process is telling you?”
I began to realize that this so called “destruction” of the art was just as much a part of the art as the piece itself. A part of his process. And I began to wonder if a part of this process was also his testing me to see if I was strong enough. Maybe he was seeing if I as his therapist was strong enough to even bare witness to and accept him in the midst of the “not so beautiful” parts of his life. The pain, the mistakes, the attempts we all have to “start over.”

And it wasn’t until I realized that. Until I rested in the mindful acceptance of what was, that I could finally let go. I began to realize that letting go, while remaining present and strong enough to hold that healing space for him while accepting all of him, was the single most important thing I could offer.

And when I run, I am my own therapist, in the sense that I bear witness to all that that I am. And when the sun is shining and my stamina is at its peak, all is well with the world. It’s then that the so called good things about me begin to appear like puffy, white clouds riding into my consciousness. Bravery. Resilience. Accomplishments. My free spirited strength.
But as my heart rate rises and the blood is pumping harder through my veins, I become more raw. Closer to that primal part nestled somewhere inside us all. The not-so-beautiful parts of who I am begin to surface, as if washed ashore with the rushing and rising of my pulse. And there they are, the mistakes, the anxiety, the selfish ambition, the jealousy, the thoughts that even though no one can see, shame me all the same. It is then that I am forced to acknowledge and accept all of me, just as I am. And in those moments of running, for some reason, I feel strong enough to do that.

I’m still sitting there on that snowy trail, thinking about all of this as I watch my dog’s breath, an endlessly appearing and fading cloud in the winter air. The rush of adrenalin in my skin has started to fade and it is then that I notice the sound of the snow falling in the forest around me. The softest patting sound that has the amazing capacity to consume all other noise and even one’s thoughts. I watch as the snow begins to rest softly on my dogs thick fur and the tips of his ears.

It is then that I am suddenly, awesomely aware of my own breath again, of my pounding heart and the fullness of my pulse. And in that moment I am completely present with just how alive I am. I slowly find my footing and decide that perhaps today falling was just a part of my process. We all have a process that leads us to face something, to overcome something, to heal from something, to remind us of something, and (despite it all) to find the strength to stand back up again.

And I decide today my process was running, running in the snow.

Play Your Own Song: A Reminder From My Childhood

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I was standing there, flabbergasted, would be the word. It was literally just here a minute ago. I rubbed my eyes, blinked slowly, and pressed the heels of my shoes into the earth, grounding myself.  But still nothing.

I was probably around seven years old when this happened to me, playing in the wooded area near my childhood home. I had found interesting leaves, searched for salamanders in the creek, and lifted rocks in pursuit of insects. Nature was always my thing. I had known that path by heart though, the thin wooded trail that led to an opening in a field before you got the creek. But that day was different. Instead of the trail leading to the field, it had led me to a small space in the woods where the trees created a kind of dome. Light was streaming in through sections of the thick leafy canopy above and rays of sunshine danced in the center. It smelled amazing. Like something I had never smelled before, like flowers in a campfire, I had thought. I entered the area slowly with a level of surprise and curiosity I had never experienced before. I could feel my heart beating and the fullness of my rushing pulse within me.

There, in the center of the cove, was a flute, or at least what I had thought to be a flute. I picked it up. It was light, wooden, with carvings I had never seen before. I had looked around and seen no one. What was this place? I ran my fingers along the carvings and marveled at how still and slow time and space seemed to be. Then, for whatever reason, I had placed the flute back down.

I had walked carefully, purposefully out of that seemingly sacred space, careful not to disturb the magic of it all. But as I started back down the trail and thinking, my meaningful slow steps became a jog, then a run, “Look what I found!” I started to yell once I saw some neighborhood kids up ahead.

And soon we were all running back to the place together. Some of them still carried cups and buckets for salamander catching and another kid was dragging a tangled light-up yo-yo. But suddenly we were in the field. What happened? The leafy dome, the sweet smelling air, it was all gone. After some arguing and mass amounts of childhood ego deflation, I hung my head and I went home. As I sat there thinking about all of this over dinner, I decided to not even tell my mom.

And now over twenty years later, I am thinking again about this memory for some reason. I’m not sure if this is an actual memory or a never forgotten childhood dream. Either way, it has meaning, significance to stick with me for all of these years. This past week, I started searching for the symbolism of flutes. I searched for this in various cultures but specifically in some First Nation cultures.

Late one night under the blue glow of the computer screen, I stumbled upon some information about Cherokee culture in regards to the flute. The article indicated flutes were special, sacred even, and made individually with one’s body measurements. It was considered disrespectful to play or, in some instances, even to look upon another’s flute (Searching Bear Flutes, 1992). I sat back in the darkness and released a breath I didn’t know I was holding.

We all do that though, don’t we? I thought. We all get so caught up in social pressures, other people’s lives, and routine, that the life we set out to live is not our own. It begins to lack meaning, purpose, intention. Haven’t we all forgotten to self-reflect, forgotten to ensure the measurements and designs of our choices, beliefs, and values are consistent with who weare, with who we individually were created to be? We end up spending a lifetime carving a flute only then to sit back and have no idea what kind of song to play with it. A lifetime of falling into the comfort of mediocrity and the external influences that lead our hands to carve the flute of a life perhaps we were never intended to live.

If I could go back to my seven year old self, I would affirm her decision to leave the flute in the forest. I would tell her that she will continue to create her own over the years. Shaping, shifting, learning, and growing to become the best version of herself. I would assure her that it is okay if her flute doesn’t look like the others. The gentle breeze through her honey blonde hair would assure her that she would forever keep that special wooded cove in her spirit. That she can inhale that sweet smell of floral wood-smoke and rest easy knowing she is intentionally living, intentionally carving her own flute to play her own song.

And it will be a song that her soul will recognize, because it was the song she was created to play all along.

 

 

 

Reference

The Flute Story. (1992). Retrieved November 19, 2016, from http://www.searchingbearflutes.com/FluteStory.htm

Looking for Tears: Some thoughts from my inner 5-year old

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I think I used up all my tears when I was a really little baby. Colic, doctors called it. I cried. I cried and I cried and I cried.  My parents rocked me and held me and fed me and changed me, but none of it worked. They said I hardly ever stopped crying as a baby. And now, at five and a half, I can hardly ever do it.

It’s dark. Really dark. I have figured out I am definitely still on the school bus, which isn’t good. No one else is on it now. Just darkness. I think about raccoons, how they live in the night. I’ve always thought they were cute but my mom told me they are dangerous. Maybe she’s right. And maybe they are here too.

My heart is beating so fast I can hear it. The only other sound is the clicking and the loud knocking of the bus engine cooling off. Even the mean old bus driver lady is gone. That makes me a little scared, and a little glad.

Grown-ups teach you what to do for a lot of things, like rolling when you are on fire, asking the owner to pet their dog before you try so it doesn’t bite your face off, and curling up really tight by the big-kid lockers when there are tornados (real or fake ones). But no one ever taught me what to do when you wake up on a school bus and all of the other people are gone.
I look out the windows and through the darkness and I can see other buses. This must be where they all sleep. I wonder if anyone else is on those other buses. I crawl under the cool leathery seat and try to cry. The floor is sticky in spots and everything smells like kids. Kids and food. I feel like throwing up. I scrunch my face and squeeze my eyes. Crying is hard sometimes, even if it seems like you are supposed to do it.

Then I hear a loud noise and big foot steps shake the bus. My skin is prickly and my heart is beating faster. She’s calling my name. That bus driver lady. I stay under the seat.

“Kristine?!” She calls. Mean lady can’t even say my name right. She’s not the first one.

I stay curled up and listen to my heart. The knot in my throat gets bigger and bigger and it starts to hurt. I choke and it makes a sound. Her footsteps come to me.

She reaches down and pulls me out. I yell and scream. She is a stranger.

I’m yelling and she takes me outside. I walk some and maybe she carries me some too. My head feels dizzy and I wonder if it’s a dream. The sun is so bright that my eyes squint and some little tears come out too. Not the crying kind of tears though.

The road is gravely and crunches under my shoes. My light up shoes. Even in that dark place, they never ran out of their light.

She says I fell asleep in my seat and that’s why I never got off the school bus and ended up in the big garage. I don’t know if I believe her yet.

Her car is sparkly. Sparky and blue in the sun. She tells me to get in it. Her voice is scratchy. She still doesn’t smile at me. She never smiles at me.

This is it, I think. Just what my mom told me never to do. Never get in a car with a stranger, even if it’s a you-kind-of-know-them-stranger. Still a stranger.

“No!” I yell and I surprise myself at how mean I can sound to a grown-up. But it’s okay. Mom said if this happens, it’s okay to be mean. Mean and loud, to stay alive of course.

I stomp my feet into the crunchy rocks and cross my arms. She tries to pick me up and I yell louder. I do like her sparkly car though, but I’m not telling her that.

“Kristine, your mom knows where you are. It’s okay. You have to go home.” Her voice sounds a little less scary.

“Kristin-ah” I whisper. And I’m surprised that came out loud.

“Huh? What’s that hun?” She leans over to me but I’m quiet now. No talking to strangers either. Oops.

She walks away and I listen to her crunching steps. She’s talking. Must have a special pocket phone with no cord attached to the wall. My dad wants one of those.

I look at the sparkly car and it’s shiny, shiny and clean. I can see myself. Me and my serious-face, but no tears. I still think I used all of those up.

I feel something press against my ear and I push it away but then there’s my mom’s voice and I reach back. It’s that special phone and my mom’s talking in it. The bus driver is holding it up to me to hear.

“Kristina?! Oh Kristina- sweetie you have to get in her car…” My moms voice is sad and shaky. Mom never used up all her tears when she was a baby. But I already knew that.

“Mom?! But…” I start to say.
“I know what I told you, but this, this is different. Honey, I’m telling you to. She’s taking you to me, you, you fell asleep and I was so worried, and please, oh thank God you are okay, Kristina.”

Bus driver lady pulls the phone away and she keeps talking for a bit. I uncross my arms and wonder what her sparkly car looks inside. I’m glad I can see my mom soon.

A quick and quiet ride later, and soon my mom is hugging me and crying. She is thanking God out loud and the whole neighborhood is watching. I’m safe now but I don’t want them all watching either. I stand there all frowny-faced but happy. Sometimes I do that. I’m letting my mom hug me, letting her hug me really hard. I pretend all the people watching are just invisible. That makes me feel a little better.

My mom says I did a really good job, not getting in the car with a stranger and that it wasn’t my fault. Grown-ups should have checked the bus first before they put it in that big bus garage. Everyone was so worried, and looking for me, and she says she is so so so so happy I wasn’t kidnapped.

The bus driver lady is about to leave. The sun makes shadows in the grumpy wrinkles between her eyebrows and her hair is all mixed up with grey and yellow. I look at her as she’s getting in her sparkly car and I wave a tiny wave. I wave because maybe a long time ago she used up all her niceness. Maybe it’s not her fault she’s so mean. Maybe she used up her niceness like I used up all my tears. She waves a tiny wave back and she smiles a tiny bit too.

Then my mom keeps hugging me and I even start to cry a little. A big, wet tear runs down my cheek and gets caught in my mom’s hair, and I think about how maybe you never use up all the things you need that are inside of you. And I think about how I am more than just-a-little-bit-glad to know that.