grief

 

For the last few days, I have been experiencing grief like I have never felt, matched with a tender love I didn’t know I could access.  It comes in waves, where I am in the middle of a sentence or a thought, and then my breath catches and I am weeping.  I am soothed by thoughts of my family, and by the interconnection of all things.  Still, I am deeply sad.

On Sunday night, at sunset, my 90 year old grandfather crossed over. He waited to see his brother one more time, my grandma said she loved him and put him to bed at the new facility he was only in for a week (he’d never been away from her indefinitely) and an hour later, his heart stopped beating. 90 years is a good long run, no?  He is survived by his wife, my badass grandma, 5 children of which my father is the middle child, and 13 grandchildren, of which I am eldest.  If you do the math, I knew this man for 30 years, a third of his life.  In those 30 years, I have memories so sweet, that I often wonder how I got so lucky.

My grandpa was what you would call “the strong silent type”.  One of my dad’s cousins described him as the John Wayne of the family.  He was steady and constant, and everyone who knew him, knew Mike was a stand-up guy.  He courted my grandma because he knew her older brothers.  When he talked about dating her in high school (she is about 5 years his junior) he would always start with “When Anne and I was keepin’ company…” and that’s what he did for 64 years.  He kept her company.  He did this while working long hours as a mechanic, while quitting smoking and saving for a whole year the money he would have spent on cigarettes so he could buy his family a beautiful Easter meal, and while raising 5 kind and hilarious children, my dear family.

This is the man who was my emergency contact at school when my parents couldn’t get me.  If I spiked a fever, he’d be there to pick me up and take me home.  When my parents were working longer hours and my brother and I needed childcare, he’d come over after school and sit through hours of Monopoly with us.  When I was really little and the botanical garden he volunteered at had a “Spooky Walk” for Halloween, my parents took me- but I was so scared in the middle of it.  Out of the woods, my grandpa came.  He scooped me up and ran me out a side exit.  I always felt so safe when I was near him.  He would let my cousins and I take the black comb out of his shirt pocket and comb his hair and put all kinds of bows and clips in it.  On the outside, he seemed stern, but with us- he was silly and sweet. His calm and steady presence was almost monk-like in its nature.  That same presence let me drive his luxurious Crown Victoria when I was 17.  He just sat next to me, and let me drive.  He trusted me, and I him.

He was a man of few words, and near the end, almost none.  There were days he wouldn’t speak at all, but when I’d call and my grandma would say “Mike!! It’s Danielle on the phone!” he’d croak out “I love you Danielle.”  Those were the only words that really mattered.  On days he was silent, he would sit and hold my hand, and as I type this I weep, remembering still how sweetly he would look at me, how he would tear up when I left.

As I experience this grief and this loss, I also experience a deep love and support. Life comes in these dichotomies. Usually it’s my mother who calls with the hard news.  This time, it was my dad and I am so grateful for that.  When I saw my grandma yesterday. she reminded me that he wouldn’t want me to be sad, that he loved me, and that he’s happier now.  I know all of these things to be true.  My grandpa was a religious man, but in a way that comforted me.  He never forced it on me, and I would only go to church services when I was with him because I liked to hold his hand and I loved to be part of his ritual.  If there is heaven, the one that my grandpa believed in- I am sure he is there.  I am sure God has called him home because his work here was done. And he did some damn good work. I believe his work was dedication and devotion to his family and a deep kindness that cannot be taught, but only lived into.   How profoundly lucky I am to be able to carry it forward.

I remember him always singing me this song:

“I love you a bushel and a peck
A bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck
A hug around the neck and a barrel and a heap
A barrel and a heap and I’m talkin’ in my sleep”

I love you too. May angels lead you in.

 

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an open letter to the men who couldn’t hold me

Dearest former loves of my life,

I am writing to tell you that it isn’t your fault.  How could you have known how much fire you were getting yourself into?  How could you have known the depths that I hold?  You didn’t know you’d get lost in there, in all of that divine wisdom and power.  I imagine it must be terrifying to realize that the woman (and that word doesn’t hold half of what we really are) with which you fell in love, could hold so much, could be so much, could attract and radiate and expand, SO MUCH.  In a world where the masculine is usually synonymous with power and control, you must have felt so small in comparison, so helpless upon witnessing my earthly being containing multitudes beyond it.  How could that much divinity and beauty reside in such a small body?  “How does she keep all those stars in there?”-you must have wondered.  You must have felt like you couldn’t offer anything.

To be clear, I never needed you.  I wanted you.  I wanted a divine and courageous partner, to see me and hold me, and lift me up to the light that not only exudes from me, but needs me to step into it, over and over again.  I wanted you to hear my name and melt, because that’s how I felt when I heard yours.  I wanted someone who was not afraid to say they were afraid.  Don’t you get it?  I didn’t care that you were scared of the power that I held, that I continue to hold.  The only thing I needed from you was to stand in that fear and dive in with me.

But you couldn’t.  And it’s not your fault.  And it’s not the alcohol, or the toxic conditioning from your father, or your parents’ divorce, or any other reason that separates you from your ability to heal and truly love with humility, compassion and honesty.  It’s the simple fact that you are scared that by stepping into my own power, that I will somehow diminish yours.  My sweet loves, it doesn’t work that way.

So when I am crying alone, because you have again told me that I am too much, that I require too much, and that you can’t give me what I need, I’ll listen.  When you tell me that I give too much, and that I love so much, and that I am so sweet, too sweet, I’ll listen.  I won’t waste that on you anymore.  I won’t waste this gift I have been given; the gift of loving so fully that I see the light in you when you cannot see it in yourself.  I consciously search out your light and hold it up to you in the darkness, and if that is too much for you, then so be it.  I will wait.  I will light my own way.  I will find my own way home, and one day there will be a person waiting there, holding up the light for me.

I wish you every good thing.  I love you for the mirror you held up to me. Take care and be kind to the next woman and hold her in the light. She will undoubtedly be the one.

xo,

Danielle

P.S. I wrote the women a poem, here- take it.

he knows not
what he misses
every curve of
a woman
will remind him
of your perfect body
the one he held
not tightly enough
the body that held
support
so infinite
he wouldn’t know how to
bow at it
to it
for it.

you are worlds
bigger
than he can hold
adequately

It’s not his fault
you are stars
and fire
too bright
It’s not his fault
that you are a gem
in which he saw his reflection
It’s not your fault
that he was not
the one to hold the light

You kindle your own
fire now

without pause
or hesitation
you are yours
to love again

 

multitudes

Whitman, in his poem Song of Myself, writes:

“I am large, I contain multitudes.”

and believe me, I do. We all do.  My multitudes contain within them some big shifts that I can finally share.

On August 2nd, 2018, I walked into Breakwater School and kindly told my supervisors that I would not be returning to teach Preschool this coming autumn.  “We thought you might tell us that, if you found a position somewhere else.  We had the job posting ready to go,” said my academic director kindly.  The real surprise isn’t that I’m leaving the beautiful community at Breakwater- the real surprise is that I’m leaving education (remember when I started this blog for that reason?!) and I’ll tell you why.

For 8 years I have struggled to find my place as an educator.  I love working with children.  I love helping them discover themselves, and nature and each other.  I love educators and educational philosophy and school.  I LOVE school and have always loved school.  September 2018 will mark the first year of my life that I will not return to school in some capacity.  Every year I have either gone back as a student or a teacher, and now?  Neither will suit me anymore.  I was struggling for so long because I’m not meant to do it.

I have taught in various settings with diverse populations of children and families.  I have worked in schools where children have every luxury, and I have worked in schools where I’ve conducted home visits in run-down barns with no heat and children asking me if I’ve brought them any food.  I’ve taught in settings where children are so precocious, I can’t believe I’m talking to a 4 year old and settings where I’ve had to restrain children with severe emotional disturbances.  The middle ground was often hard to find.  When I taught in private settings, I was seen as a glorified babysitter (and when I was younger I did have to babysit on the side because preschool teachers have the lowest pay of all teachers) and when I taught in public settings I was so emotionally drained and physically hurt (re: two bloody noses and countless other injuries) that I was sick, depressed and anxious more often than not.

Before you tell me that it is a great loss to education because I am leaving the profession, think about this:  What good am I to children if I am unwell?  What good am I to children if my whole heart isn’t in it? What good am I to my colleagues if I am consumed with doubt about my dedication to the profession? I have seen the work of teachers whose hearts are in the purest place when it comes to education, and they are remarkable.  For me, I’m in a place where I can’t “do it for the children” anymore.  In my experience (because I can only speak about my own, and this is not meant to generalize to all teachers) there is this underlying narrative in teaching that told me that in order to be the best teacher I could, I had to put my job before my own care.

I felt guilty about every sick day I took.  I felt guilty about not answering an email from a parent within 2 hours.  I felt guilty when my room didn’t have every perfect finishing touch I saw other teachers place for hours after school each day.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard teachers and administrators alike say “Well, we’re not in it for the money.”  And you know what? They’re not wrong.  Most of us didn’t get into teaching for the money.  We got into it because we had a teacher we loved and we love teaching!  But I’ll tell you what- I didn’t go into it to go broke and and be stressed all the time either.

For a long time, I thought I had no other skills.  I thought I could only teach and I was terrified to try anything else.  I was also terrified to lose the esteem that comes with the title of being a teacher.  When I told people I was broke and a teacher, they were sympathetic usually.  Like- “Oh, that’s so sweet You’re a teacher! We so appreciate what you do!”  And we all know that if I told them I was broke and worked at a fast food joint (no disrespect, a job is job and we need to stop judging those who do!! My job was a privilege.) I probably wouldn’t have gotten the same response. When people asked me what I did and I told them I taught preschool one of two things usually happened.

Scenario A: 

Me: “I teach Early Childhood Education.”

Standard American: “What’s that?”

Me: “Preschool- 3, 4 and 5 year olds.”

SA: “Oh, so like daycare? You just play all the time?”

Me: “Well actually, I am preparing children with compassionate social skills so that they can be kind members of society.  Pre-literacy, math and science skills are taught through play, and I observe the children closely so that I know their interests, that way I can incorporate them into curriculum planning.  I doubled majored in Psychology and Early Childhood Education, so I can also help parents understand developmentally appropriate practices that they can follow with their children.  My masters focused on Literacy, so I am always consulting with other teachers about phonological awareness and how children are using language and communication in relation to their pre-reading skills.”

SA: “Do you have to change diapers?”

Me: :::slowly implodes:::

Now repeat this conversation ad infinitum for 8 years of my career.

Scenario B is more hopeful.

Me: “I teach Early Childhood Education.”

Woke American: “Oh cool, like little kids? I could never do that. It sounds so hard! We need more people like you!

Me: “It’s definitely challenging at times, but often really rewarding and keeps me young! 

WA: “Do you have to change diapers?”

Me: ….

This is funny right?  Did you laugh?  I did!  Most people have NO IDEA what teachers do on a daily basis, especially ones in my position.  Teaching young children requires you to be on, solving problems all day long, with a smile on your face, ready to wipe tears, snot and other things away compassionately, and with respect for the child.  It’s worthy work, but it is hard.  And here I am writing about it at length, because I still need to defend this profession.  I still need to tell people that it is worthy work.  This is why I did it for so long.

Over the years many people have looked at me, genuinely shocked that I have a master’s degree AND that I am a preschool teacher.  This should not be shocking.  Teaching preschool is not babysitting and you should be educated to do it well.  There is deep pedagogy that goes with the philosophies under which I taught, and it should be respected and upheld, like any other profession that requires higher schooling.

So again, my choice to leave education is actually a good one, but I’m the only who needs to believe that. Maybe it will be a wake-up call for some who thought I was just sprinkling glitter and blowing bubbles (which I was, but there was SCIENCE involved!). I have a great respect for those who continue to teach because we need their heart, their expertise and their intelligence, and I will continue to advocate for better pay, more respect, and more visibility when it comes to the incredibly complicated and heartfelt work that they do.  Okay, exhale.

Recap– I’m no longer a teacher of children in a school setting, and I am proud and excited about this decision.

But Danielle! you exclaim, what will you do now?!

It’s finally happening. I’m going yoga instruction, thai yoga massage practicing and other magical offerings- full time!

But what about security and health insurance and benefits and retirement?!

Well, my darling reader, I do think about those things (hi Virgo rising and Virgo moon), and I have plans for all of that.  But honestly, what is the point of all of the above if you are not well and generally unhappy doing the job that gives you said security?  And please don’t misunderstand me, there is so much I love about teaching and so much of it that is so bittersweet for me to leave.

As soon as I gave my notice, I kid you not- so many offers came in requesting my teaching expertise that I almost didn’t believe it was actually happening. As if the universe was saying “Hey girl, I saw you bust ass for 8 years- here’s your payoff, Enjoy your life now please.”  People crawled right out of the woodwork to ask for my specific help.  I had affirmation after affirmation that I was making the right decision.  Not to mention for the whole month of July I had been teaching a ton of yoga, with brilliant, kind and heart-melting feedback.  My dear friend and colleague Kristin Niebuhr asked me to take a bigger role at her barre and yoga studio (The Rooted Collective).  I started working behind the desk at a magical shop downtown (Arcana) where I get to talk to people about healing work (someone actually tipped me for helping them choose a stone for help with shift and transition! what?!) and I’ll be practicing Thai Yoga Massage there as well.

I’ll now have time to help facilitate more training with my mentor and colleague Jennifer Yarro of Frog Lotus Yoga and The Triple Gem School of Thai Massage (Frog Lotus Yoga).  My Wild Woman Project Circles (The WILD Woman Project) are in full swing and WILD Woman Fest (WILD Woman Fest) happens in less than two weeks, where I facilitate and do event production and merchandise!  I’ll have regular classes around the corner from my house at the beautiful and lovely Honor Movement and classes for children coming up in September at The Portland Yoga Project.

And if I feel like it, I’ll substitute in the schools a little, maybe some online tutoring- but you know what?  This is my life now.  For a long time, I didn’t think the world needed another woman to quit her job and teach yoga in the wellness realm full time, and in playing small in that way, I negated all of my inner wisdom.  It has taken me many years to be able to say that I am a gifted yoga teacher, and that I am a capable and gifted Thai Massage Practitioner and that I possess a great many other gifts that I offer in different ways.

Students and clients have always told me that I am good at what I do, but I never internalized it.  I was too scared to step into that knowing because what if I went for it, and I failed?  What if people wrote me off because I didn’t have a respectable mainstream job?  What if they were just being nice? Could I really make a living in this way? I recently had a massage client look at me honestly and say, “That was an incredible massage. Danielle, how does one become you?”  I was dumbfounded.  I was just there in service to the client because they have trusted me with their healing.  To receive this feedback was soul-shaking to me.  I just want to be of service, and in this genuine offering I am watching so much abundance roll in.  It really does work this way, when you ask for nothing in return and you believe that no one owes you anything.

What I mean to express in this ridiculously long post is how grateful I am.

Image result for “i thank the universe for taking everything it has taken and giving to me everything it is giving -balance”

I am so so so grateful that I have cried every day since making this decision, thinking “how lucky I am that I get to be alive now! how lucky I am to know myself and do this work and help others and add to the beauty of this world.”  This may seem like airy-fairy woo-woo shit to some people, and that’s fine.  Do your thang, I support you too.  But to me, the connections I’ve made and the knowledge and wisdom coming through the vessel of my body is something I can no longer ignore.  I will always be a teacher at heart, but what I teach and how I teach it will be the ever long and honest and soul-fortifying journey.  Know that I love you, dear reader, that I am deeply happy, and that my hand reaches out to yours in hopes of connecting and serving.  Take it if you wish.

xo.

solitude

These words poured into a notebook in a stream of consciousness right before I fell asleep last week.

being alone is consciously sleeping in the middle of the bed.
it’s a king, and you’re in between two pillows now
taking up space on purpose
where it used to be occupied
by someone else who held your heart
until you called it back
took it out of selfish hands
and slid it back
deep behind your breastbone
now it is only for you
keep it and live into your new life
take up so much space
he must be worthy enough to have a corner of it
and if he’s worth more
make sure the bed is yours

I do sleep this way now.  For months I slept on my same side of this ocean of a bed.  I can only imagine it was habit (and the fact I sleep like 27 rocks).  But it’s gotten me to thinking about solitude.  I have confessions to make.  Prepare yourself.

Being alone is hard for me.  I don’t like it, which is why I’ve had THE PARADE OF DUDES (with special guests: WOMEN) for the duration of my twenties. As I’ve been reflecting the last month, I realize that I have systematically inserted a partner into my life every time I make a decision to let one go.  There is always someone on the back burner.  For a long time, this was exhilarating and ego-boosting.  Now, it’s shown me that if I really want to invite a partner into my life that can level up to me, I have to create space first.  My old practices of choosing partners went something like this:

“Jump in with two feet!  When you jump in with two feet and keep your heart completely open, you’ll know if this is right for you, even if you get hurt in the process.  It’s okay if there are red flags because- POTENTIAL! I can fix this.  I am special and magical enough to fix this wounded baby bird.”

But here’s what I’ve learned in ways that involved emotional abuse, misguided intentions and just plain fuckery: Potential does not a healthy relationship make.

I have challenged myself to get uncomfortable.  Writing this post is in honor of that challenge.  From the outside, I like to imagine that I present as having my shit together, but the truth is- I’m terrified of looking like I have no idea what I’m doing (not just in relationships, but in all aspects of my life).  I’m scared of failing in all the ways a human can fail.  I’m literally doing the best I can in hopes that living through it will illuminate the path I walk down.

So now, I make decisions that are hard for me.  I say no more than I say yes.  I spend nights in my house drinking a glass of wine in the bath tub instead of going out on dates to distract me from my temporary loneliness.  There are good books on my night stand and there are long conversations with strong women who are helping me live into my healthy choices.  There are tears that well up from a place I forgot I had, mourning the loss of the life that depended so much on what others thought about me. It used to be safe there, thinking that I pleased everyone.  I’m learning to know myself in this new place and like it.

“Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination…” -Mary Oliver

I wonder what it will be like to know myself in solitude.  I’ll just have to let the magic work on me instead of working it on everyone else.  xo

 

transitions

tran·si·tion
noun
  1. the process or a period of changing from one state or condition to another.

This is the place I am in.  Summer flew by in my new home so beautifully.  That transition was seamless.  Portland, Maine suits me in a way that feels simultaneously like coming home and starting over again.  Growing up, I always wanted to move and be the new kid.  I’ve always been a “me first!” kind of gal (hello Aries sun!) and haven’t ever had trouble making friends.  This time, I return to the salt water, which is healing me right this moment, but I am also new here and that is exciting, in a trembling, fluttery sort of way.

I thought the transition I would be facing once I got here would eventually be marriage, property-buying, and planning logical parts of my future with my partner.  I think maybe most people that know me, would have agreed.  It just seemed like the next step from the outside looking in.  But, in true wild woman fashion, that’s not what happened.

Have you ever had a wake-up call so deep in your bones, that all of a sudden, you took a breath and exhaled and realized you’ve been holding it for a year? As if you pulled back a curtain to some forgotten dusty place in yourself, and were shocked to find that part of you was hidden in there?  This was my experience last month. This realization meant that my relationship was over.  By no means was it a knee-jerk reaction, but once I saw every step leading to this decision, I couldn’t un-see it.  The part of myself that I spied behind the curtain was my inner life, and it wasn’t matching my outer life at all.

Your outer life is easy to define.  Your job, your friends, what you do– the literal actionable qualities you embody on daily basis.  What is the inner life?  I see it as the goings-on under the surface.  The place where you contemplate the questions you don’t speak out loud, where your inner guidance comes through.  The place where you ask, “Should I stay?” And should you?  These two lives should not be too far off from one-another, as far as I’m concerned.

My inner life was consumed with supporting a person I loved (and still love in many ways) so deeply, that I believed it was my purpose and duty as a partner to be there no matter what; that just because I said I wanted this forever, I would diligently hold the weight and space for emotional growth all the time.  It was work I wanted to do because I thought at some point there would be room for me.  In the time frame where I needed that room, it wasn’t there.  I have to believe that is okay too.  It is okay to try your hardest, give of yourself everything you have, and at some point realize, this isn’t it and it won’t be it.  You are no less of a partner or person because you couldn’t make it work. I am no less of a partner or person because I couldn’t make it work.  The relationship we had, the growth we did make, is not erased or negated because we are no longer partners.

I’d also like to celebrate my former partner for being loving, gracious, understanding, mature and thoughtful through this transmutation of our relationship into friendship.  He told me that I gave him a gift through our relationship and even through the process ending it.  I’m watching him blossom into his best person and although sometimes I am sad that I have to miss it, and someone else will slip more easily into the space I occupied, I am so happy for him that it often doesn’t matter.  This is me trying to cultivate love without attachment.

I subscribe to the idea that we don’t own our partners or lovers (or anyone for that matter) and the only things we have control over are our reactions to the actions of others.  When I feel jealousy or sadness or any of those seemingly yucky feelings that happen with a breakup (or you know, in your life for whatever reason), I ask myself “Will I die of jealousy?  No.  Of rejection? No. Of disappointment? Negative.”  And we won’t.  I won’t.  My practice of loving non-attachment encourages me to ask these questions over and over.  There is a word in sanskrit: svadhyaya.  It means ‘self study’.  This is the lifelong study of myself.  Engagement with those feelings without becoming attached to them is key.

 

Now, I approach the age of 30.  For some people, a breakup at this juncture is debilitating.  Luckily for me, this is the most myself I’ve ever felt.  It is the most embodied, the most sexy, the most mastered, the most everything (Of course, there are hard insecure days, but I solo dance party the sh*t out of those and I generally feel better).  It all just feels so big and so good- even the parts where I feel like caterpillar soup inside my cocoon.  I am reveling in my ability to stay my own course, to have true aim, and to soften my edges and find strength in that.  The awareness I have at this point for the space I require and the partnership I desire is at an all time high.  My body feels amazing and my heart is tender but hopeful.  My clarity tells me that my inner life just leveled up.   Question:  Do you ever see the sun rise and your heart could just burst because you love your life and you’re so grateful and you just know that there is something really good coming your way?  I thought so. Me too.

xo.

 

quietly beginning.

Did you know that when you just shut up and begin, magical things happen to you?  Part of my reasoning behind this idea, is that I have spent so much time NOT beginning anything, to the point of anxious exhaustion.  Beginning means that I have to acknowledge that maybe something has to change or :::gasp::: I have to take responsibility for something.  But when I just begin, even in a small way, I remember my divinity, even while cleaning the litter box.

When I entered January, I already knew I’d be leaving my current home.  I didn’t know that I had to be an active part of that beginning, that process of rolling slowly away from the place you’ve molded to fit yourself for the last 10 years.  In my last 5 or so months here, I have began (and completed) many challenges in my life.  The difference is that normally I’d make a big fuss about said beginnings and talk all about it, and congratulate myself.  This time, I did it quietly.  And maybe, now that I am expressing these, dare I say it, accomplishments, it may look like I’m being loud (and you’re the reader so you can make whatever judgments you please), but I believe that giving each of these pieces of my life credit will actually make be better at beginning.

In January, I quietly accepted a position teaching a college level course a week before it began and completely made up the whole thing as I went.  My superiors trusted my skills and experience in the field of Early Childhood Education, to tell me “You’ll be great. We trust you.”  So I began.  I liked it, although it was time consuming and stressful, and I never got used to “Professor Gismondi.”  My seven years in the field earned me an opportunity to share about what I’ve learned in that time, trusting that my experience could actually shape future educators.  Amazing.

I quietly accepted helping to facilitate my favorite festival of the year WILD WOMAN FEST, as a Love Crew member.  Basically, I’m getting paid to be on top of a quartz mountain on the full moon with 100 perfect women for a week doing ritual, taking yoga classes, eating chocolate and having moon circles. No big deal. (just kidding, BIG DEAL.) This is an event I used to save up for, and use a payment plan to attend.  Now I am being fed and housed because my skills are of use to this community.  This is a gift that I cannot express how I grateful I am to receive.

I quietly accepted an invitation to teach at MAYFest in Cold Spring, NY.  This is a yoga festival where I am considered an “artist” and am sharing a bill with Elena Brower, Nadie Sardini, Rusted Root and Ozomatli.  What? Me? Again, this is a paid gig and the bonus is that my dearest lady love is the production manager.  This is a relationship that I cherish, and I had no idea that by nourishing it, I would be gifted with such an amazing opportunity.  Her kindness and love, knows no bounds.

Perhaps the biggest deal to me is the most recent offer I have accepted.  Beginning at the end of August, I will be teaching at Breakwater, an independent day school in Portland, 3 minutes from my new apartment.  They took such care in hiring me, and I am so impressed by their staff and their very welcoming nature.  I’ve never heard my potential employers tell me over and over how thrilled they are to have me.  This is a community that values its teachers, and I’ve never quite gotten that vibe before.

Listing these things here, makes them real for me and allows me to let gratitude flow through me.  I’ve had my head down trying to complete the most difficult year teaching I’ve ever had and I haven’t taken time to honor these blessings.  This job is more difficult than being punched in the face twice last year.  That’s not a joke.  I’ve been quiet about this too.  It has also come to my attention that this job has made my physical health deteriorate in a way I’ve never experienced.

TMI forthcoming: Recurrent yeast infections, low libido, a panic attack and poor eating habits have been the majority of my year.  I was unable to admit that I was not okay, that I was upset with feeling no pleasure in my body, and feeling like something was wrong with me.  I did not want to begin because that meant, again- something was wrong.  I was wrong and bad and not worthy of anything.

Flash forward to this month.  After doing a womb cleanse with Sohkna Heathrye Mabin of MamaSutra Loving Arts and Anita Teresa of Embodied Leadership I realized that my work directly affects my ability to take care of my body, specifically my womb.  I highly suggest their work if you’re encountering challenges such as those I’ve described above. (Womb steaming is real, I just paused in the middle of writing this to do mine, and GOODNESS GRACIOUS ME OH MY!! What an experience. My partner just said “That smells GREAT!  If I had a vagina I would totally do that!”) Although I knew this last year, I know it now in a quieter way which, bizarrely, has been more powerful.  The ailments that I sustained were neither painful, nor loud.  Instead, they were a pulse in my body, a nudge over and over again…”Hello dear, please take care of me. I’m not angry, just needing love and support.”  The process of healing these wounds is not quick or easy, but it is deeply humbling and moreover essential to my life and work.  As a note: this month after taking great care of my mental, emotional and physical health, I have not experienced any of the above ailments.  Interesting, no?

Where does this leave me?  Astounded. Incredulous. Grateful. Humbled. The list goes on.  Consider contemplating what you do, in a quiet way.  What is the benefit of keeping your contemplation and secrets to yourself, until you’re ready to share?  What happens in that seeding time, where we allow our work to work within us?  What happens when we shut up and just begin?  I’m pretty sure it’s magic.

10 Years

That’s how long I’ve lived in North Adams.  It’s how long I’ve been teaching yoga.  Within those ten years, I’ve received 7 years of higher education, traveled to Spain 3 times, met my long term match, and created a supportive and loving community for myself.  Through those ten years in this sleepy little city, I’ve come into my womanhood, let go of relationships that didn’t serve me, fought to keep the ones that did, and learned that I am so much stronger and more resilient than I really ever knew.  It’s first place where I lived on my own, and came home to myself happy and whole.  Most importantly, it’s where I adopted my cats. Clearly, that is most important. Understand my priorities, thanks.

Emily Dickinson said “We turn not older with years, but new every day.”  As I turn new now, it feels familiar and lovely.  It also feels like a cycle has been completed. 15974838_833359240905_3503418042999369699_o

The day after Christmas in downtown Portland, Maine, Chris and I stepped out onto a sidewalk in blinding sunlight. First we were like “Sunshine??! In December? What is THAT?” Then we looked at each other and knew we HAD to move.  So there it is. I’m moving.

Wait.  Let me rephrase.  We are moving.  Come the end of June, we’ll pack the kitties and hopefully fewer belongings than we have now, and move north, just 4 hours from here.  I did leave a hint in this photo of my vision board, posted sometime around the new year.  Right behind the mermaid woman, next to the words NEW IMAGININGS is a tiny map of -you guessed it- Maine.  For us, Portland.

Now, I know what the North Adams folks are thinking (or maybe you don’t give a flying f*ck what I do with my life, I have no idea).  “But we’re just getting started!  Downtown revitalization! Business opportunities!  North Adams is growing!”  And you know what- you’re right.  My heart couldn’t be more full for this city that provided me with an affordable place to live and work (my ass off!!) right out of college, and how we’ve gotten some amazing exposure.  I hope it continues to grow.

However, impatient Aries that I am, it’s just not fast enough for me.  I look forward to returning to visit when North Adams is a thriving cultural hub, where I don’t feel guilty when a new business closes, thinking it’s demise was partly my fault, because I didn’t have time to frequent it enough.  To be perfectly clear, I frequent as many businesses as I can, and I see many of the same people doing the same thing I do!  That’s amazing, AND, it’s telling that the same people put their money into local business.  This is something with which I have struggled.  It’s not a judgement, but an observation.

I have dear friends here, who are living their dreams and are truly happy.  These friends are the reason I’ve stayed as long as I have.  They are the people that make this place a hidden gem (except during March blizzards when nothing makes this place inhabitable). My dreams include salt water and living closer to my parents.

See?  You can’t be that upset (were you upset? I’m just assuming you care about my life choices again. Sorry.).  If you’ve met my parents you’d know why I’m in the market to be less than an hour away from them.  Chris has family there too, and we couldn’t be happier to keep planning big Christmas parties where all of them are together.  If I think back to when my parents first moved off of Long Island up to Maine, I remember thinking that I’d like to be there in about 10 years.  I’m a few years early on my prophecy, but the time is right.

As the move gets closer, I’ll start to get down all of the things I will miss about North Adams.  Right now, I’m going to pare down my book collection again, and be content knowing I’ll be leaving this place more glittery and more enlightened than I found it.

 

I had a panic attack.

Hi.  I am a first and second grade elementary school teacher.  I have taught in various settings for the past 6 years. I am at a new job, with new people, new curriculum, and way less time to get my job done than previously in my life, ever. I have taught yoga for the past decade, and I’d like to believe I know how to Handle My Shit.  Handling My Shit is something that I thought I knew how to do all the time.  Until yesterday.

I got out of my partner’s car, and stared at the mountains.  I am only semi-cognizant of the tears on my cheeks.  The flight of stairs to our apartment seems long.  In our bedroom, I kneel down to open the drawer where my yoga clothes are.  I am also aware that I have to get dressed.  I am needed at the studio.  Thai Massage and Restorative Yoga.  Substituting. Helping. I get up.  He looks at me.

“You don’t look so good right now.”

Then, I can’t breathe and I am wordless.  Now I am crying. No. Sobbing. Long heaves, and I can’t breathe still and I have absolutely no idea what is happening to me or why.  My heart is racing.  He’s asking what I need. I am saying

“I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.”

And I don’t.  This has never happened to me before. I am scared.  He takes off my coat, and my sweater.  He’s handing me essential oils that I can’t smell.  Looking at the clock, realizing I need to be leaving, I am more distraught and it begins all over again.  Bless his heart.  He lays me down.

“Danielle? Are you serious? You’re not going anywhere.”

He makes the phone calls. I cry and shudder on the bed while he strokes my hair and my back for the next 45 minutes.  I feel empty and hollow and also like it will never end.  But it does.  Luckily the support I gave him in his hard times, is returned to me.  He takes care of me for the evening.  I am aware how lucky that makes me.

I’d like to tell you that I had no idea how I got here.  I take SUCH good care of myself. QUEEN of SELF CARE.  PRINCESS of Handling My Shit.  Pile it on, baby.  I’ve got you. Except sometimes, I don’t care for myself, because I’m afraid that if take the time to do so, something will come crashing down and I won’t be able to maintain whatever life I’m living.  This is pressure I put on myself.  I recognize this.

I am reliable and sunshiney and positive.  And sometimes, this yoga instructor and teacher extraordinaire CANNOT Handle Her Shit.  This is humbling and terrifying at the same time.  I completely lost it yesterday.  Full on-could not be a person, could not help myself, or help anybody else-meltdown.

I know how I got here.  I’ve been ignoring it for two months.  Two to three yoga classes a week and monthly workshops, as our yoga community recovers from a teacher that we trained, abruptly jumping ship and opening a new yoga studio less than a mile away.  A new job that needs my FULL ATTENTION if I want it to go well at all.  I get to work at 7am, and most days don’t leave until 5pm.  When I get home, if I’m not teaching yoga, I’m still lesson planning, because I have to plan for 2 different grades with kids experiencing debilitating poverty and a lack of social and emotional skills.

Or I might be supporting my partner with his work stuff and life stuff.  Sometimes I am at a coaching meeting, as I am being trained by my district to be a literacy coach.  Sometimes I am doing after school programming. I am just assuming you understand what it’s like to have a job where you are “on” solving other people’s problems all day long.  That’s what teaching is.  Somewhere along the way you teach them to start solving their own problems, but in a community where families might be blaming the school for the child’s lack of self-control, this skill is difficult at best.

I find this so hard to balance because my profession is not one where self-care is evident, let alone respected or held up.  The stereotype of a good teacher, or a caring teacher, is the one who goes above and beyond always.  We are always asked to do that much more.  My constant battle is how to be a great teacher AND take care of myself.  Often, I feel like I have to choose one or the other.  Taking a sick day or a mental health day should not feel like a moral dilemma. It always does!  Last spring, I made the choice to leave, but here I am, a glutton for punishment, back at it again!

Please do not mistake this for complaining.  I am not.  I am a lucky, lucky woman with lots of support.  I just forgot that Handling My Shit, is not Handling My Shit and Everyone Else’s Without Help, nor is it Handling My Shit is Actually Believing That I Can Neglect My Own Needs and Get Away With It.

So, in conclusion.

How To Handle Your Shit (especially when you are a teacher):

-Learn to say “no” with kindness and compassion.

-Tell your loved ones you are having a hard time and that you need support and understanding.

-Make time every day to just be with yourself and do nothing.

-As much as you love your students, you need to support yourself in order to support them.

-Having a panic attack does not make you weak.  It makes you human.  Try not to get there, but if you do, know that this is okay too.  Your body will tell you when you need to stop and take a break.

-Give love generously, and accept it too.

I am promising these things to myself.   We all do the best we can. That’s all. xo.

 

Photo by Joshua Jayindo.

http://www.joshuajayintoh.com

 

 

 

 

 

I changed my mind.

draupadi1There is a story about a woman named Draupadi, in the Indian epic of the Mahabharata.  In a nutshell, she is gambled by her husband who loses his bet and he has to give her up to some evil men.  In order to prove she is not worthy of respect any longer, they immediately try to disrobe her.  She is clutching her sari tightly and screaming for help.  This goes on for a while, until she can bear it no longer.  She finally lets go, and throws her arms up in the air.  As the men continue to pull at the garment, the god Krishna comes down in the form of a never ending sari, and all that is left is a pile of fabric that grows bigger the more then men pull at it.  As soon as she let go, the universe provided for her.

Remember that time I didn’t sign my contract to go back to teaching preschool?  I was meant to be free, and find my purpose, and not get punched in the face by children less than half my size (more on this later.)  When I chose not to sign my contract, I made myself promise to be open to hearing about every opportunity that came to pass.

Well, open I was.  During a conversation with a former college professor, he asked if I would be interested in teaching somewhere else.  I said, half jokingly, that someone would literally have to hand me a perfect position. Fast forward AN HOUR. I kid you not. ONE HOUR.  An email arrives in my inbox from my prof asking if he could introduce me to the principal at a small elementary school in rural VT.  They need a 1st and 2nd grade combined classroom teacher, and he thinks I’d be just perfect.

Turns out, I am.  I signed a contract this very day, and I couldn’t be more excited to go from Danielle to Miss G, come the autumn of 2016.  The past two years were very difficult for many reasons.  Most days I felt like a bad teacher, like I couldn’t serve children the way they needed to be served, simply because they needed more from me than I could give to them. I am not a special educator, (although I am happy to support those children in my classroom who need one), a therapist, a board certified behavior analyst or a child psychiatrist.  However, I know in my core I am meant to work with children in some capacity and I need to make sure I don’t miss that window.  I couldn’t turn this job down.

This year showed me that teachers with the best intentions and lots of love for their students get hurt at school.  I didn’t expect a child to give me a bloody nose that wasn’t an accident.  Restraining a four year old for my and their own safety was not on the list of things I imagined when I wanted to be a teacher.  I know what it feels like to have to “lean into a bite” in order to free your arm from a child’s mouth.  It’s not like these things stopped, I just got better at blocking and defending myself.  The hardening that you have to do in order to be able to do that kind of work, was something I couldn’t reconcile.  I was being told to stay two feet away from my kids.  Impossible.  They are four! FOUR.  They need closeness.  At the same time, the physical abuse on a daily basis was traumatic.  I sought therapy, and I felt ridiculous for doing so, because I essentially admitted that a bunch of children beat me up, and that it made me leave work crying every day.

That’s when I knew it was time to walk away.  Perhaps someone can do this better than I can.  Perhaps someone else has the capacity to handle this, where I can’t.  I hope someone does, because I love these kids, but I also value my sanity.  When I say I love them, I mean, I also cry at home to my partner about how I wish I could do more, but I have no idea what else to do.  And if you know me, you know I’m not standing there wringing my hands.  I have exhausted all of my resources and all of my reserves.  At the risk of becoming resentful, I had to step away.  When I let go, without an exact plan for what would happen next, I stepped into Draupadi’s shoes.  They feel good.  I feel good.  I don’t know what else to say except that I changed my mind.  I’d apologize for throwing everyone for a loop, but this is who I am.  I am a teacher, and I will never be sorry about that.  Stay tuned.

effort versus ease

Student mind, student mind, student mind, I am silently chanting to myself.  I am in an all levels, vinyasa flow yoga class, in Denver, Colorado.

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(Look! Denver! Continental divide!  It snowed for the entire time I was there. Womp womp.)

Brushing off my dear friend’s warning about Denver yogis being “athletic” and “competitive,” I rolled out a borrowed yoga mat, and got ready to be the student, instead of the teacher.  Why am I chanting this little ditty to myself?  Because as a teacher, it can be so difficult to let go and just be the student.

The class is decent.  As a teacher who is obsessively passionate about safe anatomy and alignment, there were some hiccups (transitioning from Warrior I to Warrior II. Owwies in your hip!! Frog Lotus Yogis, you know what I mean.), but all in all, I enjoyed it.  I let my body flow, and as I tuned into the energy in the room, I noticed something that doesn’t happen in the classes that I normally teach and take back home.

Effort. Efforting. I’m using that made-up word right now.  Efforting.  Because no one in that room was in a state of ease.  Surrounded by pushing, and huffing and “Work your core for bikini season, ladies!” I realized that was what seriously lacking here, was a sense of ease; ease to balance out all of the effort.

Now, while this is happening I’m thinking “Should I approach this teacher after class and give her notes?  As a teacher I love getting notes from other teachers.  Is that rude? Look at this student.  I could totally help her alignment!!” and so on and so forth.  I was mentally meddling with this class and these students!  I was in teacher judgement mode.  I WAS being rude, if only inside my head, but still. Spiritual yogi party foul, for sure.  I silently apologized, and found deep gratitude for this teacher, because she was teaching me something else very important.  Long story short, I finished the class, thanked the teacher and left, slightly embarrassed by the acrobatics of my inner mind.

What I am reflecting on now is this:

Effort must be balanced by ease.

This relates directly to my teaching journey.  I have spent the last 6 years efforting.  There has been little ease.  Few times, have I actually felt like I was using my true gifts and abilities.  When I told my teaching mentor that I was planning to leave, she looked at me wisely and said, “I understand.  You’ve had a rough go, and you need some wins.”  I believe she meant: You need some time to feel good at what you’re doing, to be in a state of flow, in a state of ease.  Not that it’s meant to be easy, but that there must be a balance, and that it’s not just effort for effort’s sake.  There is a time for that, but not every day in a teaching job.  Teaching is thankless, without a doubt, but being in despair all of the time, negates the effort.

Since I resigned, I’ve had countless offers pouring in, for all kinds of jobs and projects I never imagined.  It’s still scary, I still feel strange trying to explain to people why I have chosen this path.  But every day, I feel more ease, it becomes more easeful (another made-up word. you’re welcome.) and I am continually grateful, surprised and in a state of wonderment.  Thank you Denver yogis.  I bow in gratitude to your wisdom and your effort.  It is profound.  May you find ease, and killer bikini bodies.