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Mind Over Matter

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In God’s Waiting Room

I prayed last night. I prayed.

The last time was sixteen years ago.

I wish I could say I prayed out of renewed faith, that I prayed because I was overcome by some sort of epiphany or enlightenment or sheer joy. But it was desperation. And anger. And fear. More than anything, fear.

And so I dared God. I dared him. Through the tears, I choked, “Prove it. This is your chance to prove yourself to me.” Because he had so many chances before and he never gave me that little sliver of faith to cling to. Because this, now, is the most important chance, the one I want most. Because right now I need faith.

I bargained too. I promised to practice and worship and only be the very best parts of myself if he would just save me, just this one time, from news that would take away what little hope I have left for the life I want. A simple life, yes, but the very simplicity of my dreams is what makes it so excruciating to think that the prick of a needle is enough to tell me I can’t have them.

Here I sit, as my blood gets spun through tiny little centrifuges and inspected underneath microscopes and catalogued for the insurance company. And all I can do is wait, inspect my body for signs of improvement or deterioration, wonder if every little cell of my being is harboring sickness the same way it is harboring fear, if my body will partner with these invaders and turn against me again and again. Or if this is all just temporary, if, in a few weeks, I will be dancing and hiking and finding myself still clinging to girlish notions of making a life full of love.

I pray for the latter. I pray for salvation, both from illness and from myself. I pray to be proven wrong and put on the spot, so that I spend every future day atoning for losing faith. So that I spend the rest of my life trying to make it up to God, and myself. So that I don’t give up again – on God, or myself, or anyone else.  So that I can abandon all fear and run out into the world and turn my dreams into a life.

I pray. And I wait.

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Where is Home?

Writer Pico Iyer talks about finding a sense of home in the modern world.



Home. Such a delicious word. I’ve been rolling it around on my tongue as long as I can remember, romanticizing the idea of it someday holding an intimate truth for me instead of just being an idea. Even as a small child, I was hyper-aware of everyone else having a Home and of me not really having one. I was shuffled around a lot. I always had a bag packed. I slept on other people’s couches and in their guest beds, in hospital lobbies and patient room chairs. I didn’t reach a place of thinking, ‘I can settle here. This is mine.’ Because soon I would be somewhere else.

I still haven’t reached that place of Here, Mine. The nomadic shuffle of my early years has carried on through adulthood as I have moved through a series of roommates and boyfriends and more roommates. There are places that have felt familiar, yes, but never Here, Mine. Never Home.

I have tasted little bits of Home, tried it on for size when I could – mostly in dance studios. I grew up taking ballet classes six days a week, and the studio became the closest thing to a home that I have ever had. What I have always loved most about ballet is that it is a universal language; I can walk into a ballet studio anywhere in the world and the steps will be the same, the basis of technical requirements will be the same.  There will be cold floors, smooth barres running along the walls, huddles of dancers stretching and pulling on knit legwarmers before class, the tinkering of a pianist warming up his hands. No matter where I am, there can always be a ballet class. What a lovely idea. It is always the same. It is a sort of home.

In the TED Talk above, Pico Iyer talks of finding oneself – and realizing one’s home – through a balance of stillness and movement. I have mastered the movement to some extent; I am accustomed to living in a flux state, ebbing and flowing with the tides. But I have always longed to be still, to feel still. Maybe this is why I became a dancer in the first place – by doing so, I found a way to create some consistency in all that movement, a way to stay upright in the currents.

It took me a very long time to realize I had the option to control this life of perpetual motion. That I could speed it up, slow it down, surrender and let myself be carried along, or learn how to navigate and steer it all in the direction I want to go. I am learning when to hold tighter and when to simply open my palms and be carried. It’s a fine art of having faith in my center, even when I am off-balance – which is, of course, another lesson from ballet class. There is more to it than creating my own momentum; I also have to be able to harness that momentum, make it work for me instead of being led by it.

Iyer says, “Movement was only as good as the sense of stillness you could bring to it to put it in perspective.” Even in movement, the center is necessary. Even in flight, the idea of Home is steady ground.

I haven’t found my sense of stillness; I haven’t found my Home. But I have faith that I will find it eventually, buried amongst all the other things in the center of my being.

I realize now that maybe Home will never be a place for me to settle and plant roots, or a person to come back to at the end of the day. Maybe Home will just be the sweet calm that I feel when I learn how to let the strongest currents wash over me without eroding any of my faith. Maybe finding Home will be nothing more than finding a stronger sense of myself – learning to create roots the same way I have created wings, learning to find and hold onto faith the same way I find and hold onto my center, learning to ignite an internal stillness the same way I propel my body into motion. Learning the balance. Because that’s what Home really is: the balancing point.

“And home, we know, is not just the place where you happen to be born; it’s the place where you become yourself.”

- Pico Iyer

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“Waking up this morning, I smile. Twenty-four brand new hours are before me. I vow to live fully in each moment and to look at all beings with eyes of compassion.”

- Thich Nhat Hanh, Zen Buddhist monk and peace activist


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He asks me why I don’t look into his eyes when I answer him. Of course he noticed – I should have expected him to; he notices everything. He’s so attentive. Which is a very good thing except, of course, when I’m dodging…

He seems to have crafted this process where we are learning each other in layers, like the slow peeling back of an onion. We take turns asking the real questions, sometimes the hard questions. Never the cliche getting-to-know-you questions that so often fill the beginning. He asks slowly, carefully; I can see him rolling the words around in his head before he asks, pausing to make sure he phrases them in a way that will get him to the root of what he is trying to learn. And then he sits there, silent, sipping wine while I think about my reply, letting me soak up what he asked and dig around inside myself to find a teeny truth settled somewhere between my head and my heart. He listens patiently while I reminisce or wander into a daydream or, more often, stumble through my answer.

And he nudges a little. He likes it when I’m slightly off-kilter, when the question is just prying enough to make me wonder how he’ll take the response. Somehow he seems to know that I won’t lie or dilute, that it’s in my nature to say the truth, however clumsy or flat it may be. But there is always that moment of anticipation, holding my breath after I say the words, waiting to see if he likes my answer or if we will find the thing that will lead us each to begin to hedge about the other.

I never feel like he’s judgmental, like he’s testing. It’s more of an exploration, like a new lover running their fingers along every inch of skin. He is studious, like he’s memorizing the landscape of me – which paths to run along, which require a slower pace, which are still unexplored.

I like this. I like being slightly uncomfortable. I like being with someone who is willing to be a little bit naked, who prefers the company of someone who is trying to do the same, even if it means navigating the awkward or works-in-progress parts of ourselves. It reminds me of those countless ballet classes, all the talk of stretching just a little farther to find the right placement. The growth lies in the space just beyond where we are…

Is all this how he maintains control of the play, writes the next act? I don’t know.

This is what I do know: It’s refreshing to be with a man who gently takes charge, who leads me rather than asks me or, worse, pulls me back. And I don’t want to rush or resist or dodge; I’m not preoccupied with seeing what is around the corner or trying to write the ending… I like the idea of relaxing into him, settling into the current and simply going where he takes me.

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She never stopped hearing her heart.

- Kal Barteski’s Six-Word Memoir in her interview with Brene Brown


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After long searches, here and there, in temples and in churches, in earths and in heavens, at last you come back, completing the circle from where you started, to your own soul, and find that He, for whom you have been seeking all over the world, for whom you have been weeping and praying in churches and temples, on whom you were looking as the mystery of all mysteries, shrouded in clouds, is the nearest of the near, in your own self, the reality of your life, body and soul.

- Sri Sathya Sai Baba, Indian guru

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Soul Painting: A Case For Tattoos


The mere word provokes a reaction; no visual is needed. Say it. And the comments follow. Everyone has an opinion. They’re quick to share. And those that judge are even quicker to do so.

Well… Feel free to sit over there full of your opinions. I’ll be over here, not apologizing to you for part of my body. I wouldn’t apologize for any other part of it, so why should I apologize for the (uh-oh, that word again!) tattoos?

I shouldn’t. That’s the thing. They aren’t for you; they’re for me.

It’s not so different from you carrying a Bible or wearing a wedding ring or hanging a graduation tassel from the rear-view mirror of your car. Those things are important to you and you like to keep them close, right? Well, these things are important to me and I like to keep them close – I just keep my important things a little closer…

They represent the best parts of me, all the wild things I keep locked up inside – so I remember to be them with every single breath. So I remember to open my hands, release everything I am tempted to cling to and make space for the world to perch on my palm.

I chose my tattoos carefully, put them in places that make me feel feminine and beautiful, that are associated with some level of intimacy. I put them in places that are exposed most often when I’m alone, changing or showering or lolling around the house half-dressed – so, if my mind is tempted to wander into those old familiar rooms of fear or loneliness or self-deprecation and no one is around to distract me, I will see my tattoos. I will remember why I put them there in the first place.

They aren’t body art. They aren’t the results of youthful whims or drunken dares. They are etchings of grief and hope, missteps and courage, reminders of who I was and who I strive to be every day.

Like scars or freckles or wrinkles, we acquire things as we live that we were not born with, but they become part of us. It’s the same with my tattoos. They may have been more intentional than the wear on the body that comes with living, yes – but they reflect the wear on my soul. And, more importantly, the healing of my soul.

This kind of soul painting is an ancient art. Ainu women received tattoos to bless their marriages. Hawaiians donned tattoos to protect their health and spiritual well-being. Polynesians believed tattoos were a display of the wearer’s life force. Egyptians, Indians, Africans, the Chinese and the Celts all tattooed – for fertility, health, marriage, tribal roles, religious rites…

Now, unfortunately, tattooing is largely viewed as pop culture. And for many, it is.

But for me, each tattoo has been the shedding of an old self, the painting on of a new mantra, another lesson learned and cherished. I know it’s the same with many others.

As with anything else you see, you can look at a tattoo and choose to dismiss it because it doesn’t align with your tastes or values. You can view it as pop culture or a colorful whim. But you may be wrong. That tattoo may tell a whole story, one that, if you asked, would tell you much more about the wearer than an hour of introductory conversation could. You’ll never know if you don’t ask, if you don’t seek the story before you pass judgment…

Maybe you’ll ask and you won’t like the answers. Maybe you’ll keep holding fast to your opinions and judgments. I prefer to hold fast to the belief that there are other people out there like me, stumbling and learning and loving and painting their way through life, and sometimes a tattoo or a necklace or a whispered word is a tiny clue to the stories they carry within. It’s a nice idea, right?

(And, no, you can’t see my tattoos.)


CLICK HERE to learn more about the history of tattoos


TALK: Are you for or against tattoos? Why?

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Nine Life Lessons From Tim Minchin

Tim Minchin shares his philosophy for leading a good life while being awarded an honorary doctorate by The University of Western Australia.


“Life is best filled by learning as much as you can about as much as you can, taking pride in whatever you’re doing, having compassion, sharing ideas, running, being enthusiastic… and then there’s love and travel and wine and sex and arts and kids and giving and mountain climbing, but you know all that stuff already. It’s an incredibly exciting thing, this one meaningless life of yours.”


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