Transformation And Transcendence: The Power Of Female Friendship – The Rumpus.net

Transformation and Transcendance: The Power of Female Friendships

The above article speaks for itself, and it really resonated with me today.  I miss all the beautiful women in my life who set the bar high, love fiercely, laugh heartily, and make me smile when I am down.  My hat is off to you lovely ladies.  I miss you so!

Would You Stay?

Watch the above video.  It always makes me cry.  Read below and you’ll see why.

Two years ago, today, I was presented with a difficult choice.  I learned that my boyfriend at the time had cheated on me.  It wasn’t the first time, and I hadn’t always been faithful either.  We had a tumultuous relationship, we’d done a lot of distance, we’d tried being “open,” we’d questioned ourselves, we built layers of scar tissue upon layers.  But, this time it was in my face.  The girl contacted me.  Told me she was sorry.  She wanted to be friends.  She was, sweet, almost as if she didn’t realize she’d blown a hole in my life.

I loved him.  With my whole being. I hated him for what he did.  I felt the kind of loveanger that makes you crazy and blind at the same time— completely unreasonable, completely set on ending it, completely unaware of how to live without it.  I cried mascara stains into my pillow case.  They never came out.  I knew that I had to make a change.  So, I called him to my house in Denver, sat him down, and told him I couldn’t live life wondering when my next Silda Spitzer moment was going to happen.  We had to be over.  It wasn’t a choice so much as an inevitability.

Since that time, a lot has changed.  He has moved on.  I have moved on.  We had our stumbles.  We had our tearful, rambling phone calls. Loss, over the phone line, is almost more poignant than loss and sadness in your living room, on your couch.  The distance magnifies it – the tinny sound of human on wire, over waves, through space.

Our souls fell out of solution.  Grains, one by one, falling to a cold, still bottomplace, where they rested.  Today, we live on different continents.  Lives separated by oceans, time zones, easterlies and westerlies, accents, seasons.  We share nothing.  Nothing, that is, but the history of loss.

These days, I don’t mourn the loss of that love.  I miss the boy I knew who was fragile and sweet.  I miss his insightful way of seeing the world. I feel sad that there was the callousness within each of us to hurt each other so badly.

I can’t imagine acting the way we acted anymore.  I can’t imagine inflicting that kind of pain on my new love.  I bristle at the childish notion that our hearts were so resilient.  They aren’t.  They continue beating, but the scars are still there, torquing the muscles, creating heart murmurs that whisper through stethoscopes to us, telling us not to make the same mistakes again.

And I won’t.

Soften Your Heart – Alchemy and Yoga

I am looking at my feet.  I am in downward dog.  My calves are straining and my hamstrings are too tight and my hips aren’t open.  I am trying to will my hamstrings into giving me just a little more, but they aren’t cooperating.  My yoga teacher, Julie, places her hand at my back and encourages me to soften my focus and “soften my heart,”  so I immediately drop my chest towards the floor as much as possible, which is all wrong. “Keep your armpits lifted” she says.  I try doing that but I am not even sure what it means when I’m upside down.  I am failing to follow instructions.  I realize the more guidance she gives me, the farther I am from doing it right.  I am awkwardly making this “resting pose” quite difficult.  Everything feels wrong.

Later in class (mind you this is a class of about 4 people who are mostly yoga devotees or instructors) we are doing seated poses–forward folds over our outstretched legs.  These never go well for me.  As I struggle to soften and lead with my heart while reaching my feet, the rest of the class has their heads resting comfortably on their shins, smiling blissfully.  I look at Julie over everyone else’s shoulders, and she laughs at me.  Well, more with me, because I am laughing too.  I am so tight!  Despite years of yoga, my hips aren’t “open” and when you ask me to do a pose that requires any flexibility in my hamstrings I look like a beginner.  Julie warmly suggests we not call it “tight,” we’ll call it “strong.”  She points to a spot on my upper back just behind my heart.  “This is your problem spot” she declares.  Her compassion is kind, and her read on me, good.  Both physically and emotionally, softening my heart is the ongoing challenge I face.

In yoga you hear the phrases “soften your heart” and “melt your heart” thrown around with such abandon that they lose some of their meaning.  If one looks at the etymologies of the words they ask a few things: Physically, the phrase asks us to allow the tension to release from the chest and upper back so that it can flow into poses–like downward dog.  But there’s more to it, to melt means, literally, to soften and to become fluid–to pass from one state to another.  To change your chemical structure.  These teachers are asking us for alchemy.

It’s a pretty big request, actually.

Not to get too esoteric here, but how can one not get a bit philosophical on this stuff?  To me, yoga isn’t about loosening my hamstrings, it’s about exploring the deeper meanings.  Why are my hamstrings so tight?   Why did I start crying after doing hip openers for 2 hours?  They’ll tell you over and over about how we hold tension in our bodies, but it doesn’t mean jack until yoga makes you cry and you’re left with an emotional and physical hangover from a especially successful pigeon pose.  When you have so much stuff sitting in your chest and hips that you can’t run 10 miles without writhing from IT pain for the next day, it’s time to get a little esoteric in your approach to PT.

Thus,  I am embracing the challenge to soften my heart, and by extension, my body.  To soften one’s heart is daunting.  I have spent 28 years steeling my heart against the elements–and it shows in my yoga and in my life.  To let down my defenses now after so long a battle seems daunting. Where will my sarcasm fit in? What of my cynical side?  What is even in there?  What if there’s NOTHING?  Ha.  Hopefully that’s not the case.  More worrying is the fact that in opening and softening, one exposes the most vulnerable parts of herself.  There are reasons we erect the walls we do. 

But, my hope and my ongoing personal challenge is to live with a focus on compassion and opening and melting my heart.   It is a worthy goal and I hope to achieve it, both physically and emotionally. My personal belief is that there is a safety net in compassion that is stronger than the steel I have been girding myself with for so long.   I aim to test it.

 

The Essence

This had to be shared. Whoever put this together did a great job!  I wish they had more video from  the long and remote trips Manito-wish offers, but this really captures a good portion of why people love this place and keep coming back.

Watching it made me very nostalgic for my time at camp.  While this video focuses on the fun and learning that happens at camp, my personal take on it is that the real learning comes on trail.  I can remember my first year at camp, unaware that we even took a camping trip, let alone for three days (I was 11, so this was back in 1994 or something and it was a big deal to me.)  I was terrified.  I had never been camping outside of my backyard, and in my backyard I was scared of raccoons.  But before long I was packed, given a talk about how sometimes girls get their periods on trail for the first time, and pointed towards an orange canoe with some unknown, antiquated looking name on it.  Thankfully for me, my mom had taught me how to stern a canoe from an early age and though hardly anyone in our group could steer the boats, I could.  This made me a hit with my leaders, and even though we got in late, crashed a campsite somewhere on the Manito-wish River, and many girls were unhappy, I glowed inside.  THIS was cool.

The next year when I returned I did a 6-day trip.  I was in heaven.  I distinctly remember that it rained incessantly, but one morning we got out and it was mercifully only drizzling– there was a fog over the lake and we paddled out into the rising mists on glassy waters.  Again, I thought, now THIS is cool.  I get it.

We ended up sharing a campsite that night with another trip group, which was good because our fire-making skills were not cutting it in the rain.  But the leader of the other group told us that the previous summer she had done a 5-week trip in Canada (we called the trip a “Canuck”) and she helped show us how to make a fire so we could all cook dinner.  She smiled out from under the hood of her raingear and she was genuinely happy to be outside, cooking dinner in the rain.  I was inspired.

Following those summers, I went on to do a 2-week paddling trip in Quetico Provincial Park with a group of girls that I still keep in touch with today.  We paddled hard, we portaged a ton, and we all giggled at each other and marveled at each other’s strengths.

The next summer, I did a Canuck as a 16-year old.  5-weeks of camping in remote Northern Saskatchewan with 4 other kick-ass girls and a leader who seriously changed the way I saw the world.  We were a good bunch who liked to challenge ourselves, work hard, and test our limits.  I learned how to cook creatively over a campfire, how to bushwack a portage with a compass and a map, to to raise a tarp and sail on a 100-mile long lake, and how to paddle whitewater, expeditionary style. I learned how to be quiet, to meditate over paddle strokes, and to ride the windswept rollers on turbulent lakes.  I came home from that summer tanned, lean, and different.  Stronger.  More self-assured.

The girls on that trip became some of the people who I most related to in the world.  We planned to do a Staff Instructor’s Course (S.I.C.) in 2-years time. We went back to Manito-wish as staff and spent a summer passing forward some of the skills and lessons we had been taught as campers.

In the time that passed between my Canuck and my S.I.C., some things changed in my life.  I applied to colleges and the process taught quite a bit.  I remember sitting in a dorm at Dartmouth with my host who told me ” I love it here, it makes the Friday nights that I stayed home to do schoolwork seem worth it.”

To me, this was a life-altering revelation. I had never stayed home on a Friday to do homework. I had always done well in school growing up and I never  learned good study habits as a result.  I was in the advanced track throughout school, placed at the top in standardized tests, won scholarships, but didn’t know how to simply do homework or study for a test.  I was a mess of unmet potential.  I had been resting on my laurels as an intelligent kid since elementary school, without putting in the time to really improve myself.

This realization led me down a strange path involving a lot of re-evaluating.  I imposed a grounding on myself, staying in for nearly six weeks instead of socializing.  I tried out for a play and got the lead.  I did my homework and did well.  I started bringing home the grades I should have been from the beginning.  In this quest for perfection, however, I stopped eating.  I got compliments and someone even suggested I consider modeling.  I lost sight of my priorities– big time.  I deferred from Macalester.  I took a year off to go figure out what was happening.

The following summer I headed out on my S.I.C., to spend 55-days paddling from Northern Saskatchewan to Arviat, a small Inuit village on Hudson’s Bay.  I hadn’t completely come to terms with some of the things that had happened in my life, but I knew that I always felt most like myself on trail.  I spent 7.5 weeks of that summer in the tundra and taiga.  I was challenged mentally and physically as I had never been before.  Worrying about my weight was an afterthought– I was worried about whether I could shoot a polar bear if I had to.   I was filleting Northern pike.  I was fending off the ever-present buzz of black flies.  I was portaging a canoe blown sideways by the unmitigated tundra wind.   I was reminded of my smallness and impermanence.  I was healing.

I came back to work at Manito-wish for 6-years.  I could have stayed longer.  Every year there I learned more about people, nature, and myself.  I never stopped growing.

Everyone has their own story about Manito-wish, but the uniting feature of those stories is that through Manito-wish people figure out who they are and what makes them tick.  They learn to appreciate the natural world and it’s intricacies.  They grow into good people.