Category Archives: freethinker

The Road to OZ

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The Road to OZ

It’s been 2.5 years since I last sat down and gave attention to this blog.  Since I gave attention to the writing I love so dearly and the tool in which I most effectively process life’s shifting landscape.   The tool that allows me to bring connection to my circles.

In these 2.5 years, I have been wrestling with purpose, passion, values, self-worth, belief, and a loud inner critic that has invited me to play small.  I bought in to the lies of that critic.  The lies that it doesn’t matter if I write my stories.  It doesn’t matter if I share those stories.  It doesn’t matter if I stop bringing you in to my world.  It doesn’t matter if I live in alignment with my integrity and values system.  It doesn’t matter if I shave off a little edge of my authenticity to help people digest my life’s journey.  I bought in to the lie that in order to stay safe, to survive, I had to shed a part of me that others may not appreciate.  I chose silence.  I chose complacency.  I chose to don the masks.

At the beginning of 2017 (my 40th birthday), I began to tame that nasty inner critic.  I got clear on my values. I stepped back in to alignment.  I started creating visions of all that I wanted to manifest and I threw caution to the wind taking a trust fall straight in to the arms of the loving Universe.  I had Absolute clarity that it was time to quit playing small and it was time to step in to my power.

So it turns out that it DOES matter if I share my stories.  It matters to me.  And when I flow from that place of alignment, that place of listening, my stories stir something in others because we are all connected.  We are all taking this life journey together.  My story is your story or the story of someone you know.   I hope my sharings will inspire, push boundaries, cause you to listen to your universal nudges, step in to alignment with yourself and your 2017-07-13 07.56.57values, take risks, spark imagination, and if nothing else, help you to connect to the world around you.  Sitting here, at my desk in the Costa Rican Rainforest (more on that to come!), letting the words spill out of me, I have this elation.   I’m semi-giddy with excitement.  I’m hopeful the story munchkins will forgive my 2.5 year denial of their existence and visit me often going forward.   I’m fully committed to honoring the words whispered to me in the night, and on my runs, and any time they smack me upside the head singing in their munchkin voices, “This world you are experiencing is just SO magnificent.  Share the wonderment! Follow the yellow brick road.”

This blog will continue to cover a vast array of topics that will include family adventures, travel, living in Costa Rica, nature-inspired learnings, and general sharings of something that lights me up or makes me go hmmmm.  I will continue to spill the thoughts of living a freethinking, open-spirited family life.  I will have a secondary wordpress blog at SoGoodSoPure (coming very soon!) that will cover topics related to my Coaching Business.  There you will find topics geared toward women who are wanting to shed shame, learn vulnerability, find their authentic voice, step in to their unique power, and begin sharing their gifts with the world.  Both blogs will continue to be intimate and sometimes raw in their content.  Not all stories are happy stories but that does not lessen their need to be shared.  Life is messy and in the messy is where we feel most alone. Sharing our stories can be the catalyst of connection and ease our loneliness.  This is what I seek to do.  I fully believe that a life unmasked, a life untidy, is a life worth living. And the more we show up authentically in this big big world the more the world will heal.

That said, it weighed heavily on me as to whether or not I should go through and deleteyellowbrickroad the old posts in this blog as some are controversial, some are angry, and some are misplaced. I concluded that those blogs are the bricks that paved my yellow brick road.  The stories, releases, perspectives, and feelings were necessary and are NOT meant to be erased in order to appease an audience of readers.  If you aren’t a fan of the journey I traveled to be where I am today, no problem.  Maybe instead, appreciate that the journey brought you the content you are reading today.  These new sharings of my life experiences/observances are the next yellow bricks in what is certain to be a lifetime of brick laying because I’m not certain one ever reaches OZ.

Journey On, Readers.   Journey On.

Limitless

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*This writing is one that is written without thought.  The way it works is that I do an entrance meditation and then just let the words flow, not trying to direct them, to correct them, to coerce them, or manipulate them in any way.  If they make no sense that’s perfectly fine.  If they make all the sense in the world, that’s perfectly fine too.  I really enjoyed where this practice took me with this piece.  I encourage you to try it sometime.  See where your quiet mind and full heart take you.

There are times when I feel endlessly bound.  Handcuffed and chained, a swallowed key.  I feel bound by limitations placed upon me by others, by me, by society, by financial insufficiencies, by insecurities, by my own mind, by physical incapabilities, by expectations, borders, class systems, government regulations, gender biases…an infinite list of limitations that imprison me.

There’s an easy way to put this feeling of imprisonment in to persepctive.  My path to truth and enlightenment is always nature.  Nature never fails to reset my finite thinking.  To set my feet on a path where the possibilities are limitless and always have been limitless.  Bound before by my inability (or unwillingness) to see the infinite.  Believe the infinite.

Today, I believe.  I look out over a vast ocean.  So vast, I cannot even vaguely comprehend the depths it reaches, the miles it stretches, the gallons of water swallowed in it, the quantity and size of the species living within it, the miles of it untouched and unexplored, the power and reality that this ocean is one of many.  Its vastness multiplied by five.  What I can grasp is the smallness of me.  Little ‘ole insignificant me.  Rather than binding me further, this truth sets me free.

It frees me as I look more intimately upon the sand on which I lie.  Delivered here by time and wind and tides.  We speak of sand as a singular unit but is that because a single sand grain is so insignificant that it no longer has value?  One tiny speck. One granule of something that once was.  Broken down by nature in to individual specks of insignificance.  Thrust together they become one long expansive beach of beauty.  Alone, it is small and insignificant.  Together, majestic.

The ocean tide powered by the moon still visible and hung in full view just above the horizon.  This moon so familiar to me.  A presence in my daily existence.  Always present, yet only vaguely known.  All alone, no community, relatively unexplored. Powerful yet unable to create or emit its own light.  It merely reflects the light of a star.  And there it hangs, suspended in the infinite enormity of stars and plants and space.  Small and insignificant.

Oh, the stars!  Light years away and bright enough to reach my eyes.  Awe inspiring.  Yet, on nights when only one is visible, the others suffocated by the artificial lights of my city or outshone by the reflected sun, that lone star becomes small and insignificant.  Nothing more than a pin prick in the fabric of the night sky.  Hardly noticed.

Nature is my teacher just as it’s the sand’s teacher.  There to break me down, guide me, and hold me.

Teacher, why am I so plagued with suffering?  Why are my problems so unique?  How will I fix them and end my suffering?

Teacher (Nature) tells me,

Step on to that beach.  Notice the immeasurable bits of sand.  Notice that together they are beyond understanding, beyond measurement, beyond a finite limitation.  If they were to rise up they would be a powerful force capable of overtaking any obstacle.  Instead they comfort, cradle, mold, play, house, and simply accept the winds of change.  They will move.  They will be stepped on.  They will be thrown around and kicked about.  Some will be washed away never to be seen again.  They will be underappreciated, cursed, and, at times, even shat upon.  All of this will go unnoticed because in the realm of all that is universal they are small and insignificant too.  Close your eyes.  Listen to the ocean.  It speaks.  What do you hear?

I close my eyes and listen.

I hear waves.  They’re angry and motivated.  Systematic in their approach to reach the shore. They’re reaching.  Grasping.  Unsuccessful, they retreat back.   Regroup.  Attack.  Retreat.

Teacher Responds,

They too are small and insignificant.  You hear only a small voice of the vast ocean.  If you were to venture out further, you’d hear silence.  Peaceful silence.  Even your own voice too small to break that silence.  The waves feel much like you, bound to obey forces bigger than them.  There are rules and they must follow.  They have slipped away from peace and discovered suffering. What you hear is the rumblings of dissent.  Their resistance of what is.  Their suffering.  They are you.  Small and insignificant but making deposits.  Not recognizing their collective value and therefore coming in kicking and screaming.

Now look up.  Do you see the moon?  The stars?  What do you notice?

I look up studying the sky.

They seem so far away.  I’m amazed I can see them at all.  I wonder if they see me.  And if they do, what do they see?  How would my energy reach them?  Do I have an energy that can pierce through the gaps that both divide us and bridge us?  I look up and feel the greatness of all that is out there.  The universe reminds me that each being is relatively small and insignificant in the perspective of all that exists.  It’s true that even the moon, the waves the sand, the stars, other human beings, all feel insignificant from time to time.  I am no different.  My problems feel lighter.  They are as insignificant as I am.

Teacher says,

Your problems are not insignificant but neither are they unique.  In this universe, the one in which you stand upon sand, the sands carried by waters and winds to other lands, those lands inhabited by others, all of you existing under the same night sky, winked at by the same moon, casting light from the same sun, surrounded by the same stars, made up from the same particles, your problems are in no way unique.  Your aloneness, imagined.  Your insignificance a gift in which you are free to make mistakes.  A gift to live fully without fear.  Your significance in community.  As part of a whole, your insignificance becomes as powerful as each community.  As powerful as the community of heavenly bodies.  As powerful as the oceans.  As significant as the sands.  Use your insignificance as a collaboration for peace and silence.  May your depths become immeasurable.  Your vastness, awe inspiring.  Your motivation, pure.  Your community infinitely good and powerful.  And, one day, when your insignificant, finite life ends, may you and I join forces.  May I be your new community and my you teach the new, seeking insignificants their limitless possibilities.

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Embrace the Suck

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We have to face the pain we have been running from.  In fact, we need to learn to rest in it and let its searing power transform us. ~Charlotte Joko Beck~

SUCK-METER-PATCHYears ago one of my husband’s cycling buddies turned him on to the mantra, “Embrace the Suck”.  While never having served in the military, the power of this mantra played out in the many miles we challenged ourselves to suffer through while training for century races and marathons.  When I thought I could no longer put one foot in front of the other, I would repeat

Embrace the Suck
Embrace the Suck
Embrace the Suck

and I would find my strength amidst the immense amount of suffering my mind and body were enduring.  These are powerful words of acceptance.

Fast forward a few years and I have to admit that I have been suffering again but this time on an emotional level.  I have suffered heartbreak and challenges that have seemed larger than my finite capabilities.  There have been moments that I literally thought I would not survive the wounds.  That my chest would simply explode from the intensity of pain if my heart did not simply shatter before the explosion.  I had forgotten about embracing the suck and my mind spent too much time fighting against the truth of what was.  Fighting to avoid the suffering.  Fighting against the suffering was only causing me more suffering.

At some point, I made a conscious decision to plunge in to the suffering.  My mind eventually recognized that there was no changing the course of what was happening externally so our only choice for survival was to accept the suffering.  I made a commitment with myself to avoid distractions as a way to cope because distractions would mask for a time or possibly even make my suffering worse.  I refused to use alcohol, weed, television, relationships, anxiety drugs, painkillers, shopping as ways to numb.  I vowed to feel.  To find healthy ways of dealing.  I started meditating, took an MBSR course, journaled, deepened friendships, invested in my boys, read books about healing, vented to a therapist, and started sitting in silence discovering who I am.  Who I am in my darkest moments.  Every time I was tempted to medicate and drown (which I wasn’t perfect…sometimes I chose the unhealthy), I would ask myself, “who do I want to be?  Is this in line with my highest self?”  Most of the time, I was able to choose suffering…hoping there was something to be learned at the end of it.  In those crushing moments, I would simply name out my  experience.

Pain
Pain
Pain
Lonely
Lonely
Lonely
Afraid
Afraid
Afraid

The simple task of identifying what was happening within allowed space for acceptance.  Pain, loneliness, and fear were no longer overwhelmingly powerful.  They were a small portion of a whole experience.  This moment pain.  This moment loneliness.  This moment an abundance of fear.  This sucks…I want out.  I want to numb.  No, Amy, Embrace the Suck just for this moment.  It was a constant battle to outwit my mind.  My mind was in survival mode.  My spirit wanted more than survival.  My spirit wanted growth even in the midst of suffering.  When one chooses to Embrace the Suck, they choose growth over fear based survival.

I practiced sitting in pain for 6 months.  Some periods were extremely challenging.  At times I failed my goal of acceptance.  I was too uncomfortable or too weak to accept the challenge.  I distracted.  Other times, I came out the other side of pain feeling more whole, stronger, super proud of the person I was becoming. comfort-zone-300x206

Two months ago I attended a one day silent, meditation retreat and I was in immense psychological pain.   A pain that manifested itself both emotionally and physically.  I cannot remember another time in life when I felt so low.  So beat up.  The entire day I was plagued by the incessant processing of my mind.  A rerun of hurtful events played over and over again.  A running stream of stories about my future.  It refused to be quieted. My body reacted with chest pains and vomiting.  I could not find any enjoyment or purpose in this practice of acknowledging my truths and accepting suffering.  I even suffered through my lunch, resenting every forced bite of food that my stomach wanted to reject.  I was finished with nourishing myself.  My mind was going to win.  How’s that for truth?!?   I was a pissed off woman, filled to the brim with pain, suffering through a zen retreat.  At the end of the retreat we did a loving kindness meditation and I could not even offer loving kindness to myself.  I was too broken.  A shell of nothingness.

In spite of what felt like a complete failure of my first attempt at a retreat, I continued my mediation practice.  I was determined to see this suffering through to the end.  I wanted to see who I would be when the blanched layers of my former self were peeled away.

IMG_2415Last weekend, I was able to see that woman in full form.  I understood the importance of suffering for the very first time in my life.  I received this gift at the same retreat I had reluctantly attended two months prior.  My external circumstances are still painful and challenging but I’ve come to accept them.  To find my voice and declare my needs in spite of them.  In the past few months, I have started growing stronger, deeper, more certain of my convictions.  I am understanding what it means to be me rather than a form of me that has been painted by others.  I’ve learned to be my own mirror.  To name my experiences both positive and negative.  I’ve sat deeper and deeper in suffering and, at times, have even welcomed it to sit with me.  I’ve been able to identify my Mara, shake her hand and rather than chase her out, I’ve welcomed her as my teacher.

During my meditation retreat, each meditation offered me a fullness and spaciousness that I hadn’t had room for 2 months ago.  I began to realize that I had been budding, growing in the wisdom of all that I was being taught.  Still a sapling but beginning to grow leaves and even a bit of fruit.

I had an awakening during my silent lunch.  I found a little bench hidden within a wall of flowering bushes and I allowed myself to be fully present and open to whatever would arise.  I had no expectation beyond mindfully eating my colorful peppers and tofu (which was a sensory experience in and of itself).

The first awakening I had was noticing the overwhelming, sweet scent of a new bloom near my bench.  I inhaled with my eyes open.  I inhaled withpavonia-emperor-moth--thomas-marent my eyes closed.  Its seductive fragrance was a smile upon my being.  A gift given to me and I was receiving.  I later tried to breathe in that sweet fragrance again and no matter how hard I tried, I could not find the scent again.  I began to connect this experience to studies I’ve read about our brains.  My brain processed this scent when I first sat down and at some point it decided that the scent was no longer necessary to process.  It was no longer useful.  I then began to wonder how many things my eyes had seen when I first walked in to this garden that my mind decided were no longer useful.  How many things exist (sounds, smells, sights) that my mind identifies and deems unnecessary and then blocks them from registering?  It is then possible for two people to sit in the same space and have two very different experiences.  Both of them equally true.  Neither one right or wrong.  This opened me up to the possibility that I could be more empathetic in my relationships.  I can accept that my reality and another’s reality may be concurrently factual and different at the same time.  Wow!

87791820_XSMy second awakening arrived as I became an observer of nature.  I felt as though I was privileged to be among nature’s world not as a participant but as a quiet spectator.  I noticed a tall weed that had pushed up through the crack of a cement driveway and I thought, “That weed was not provided ideal conditions for nourishment and growth.  I bet it was an immense struggle to reach toward the sun.  I bet that weed suffered.  But maybe, just maybe, through its suffering it has a better life than the weed that was without struggle.  The weeds that grew in the grass (ideal conditions) are likely mowed over or eradicated with weed killer.  This driveway weed suffered and because of that struggle has life.”  This is, of course, the story I have applied to the weed but it began the process of bringing full circle my understanding of suffering.  IMG_2364

Next I saw a fly become entangled in a spiderweb.  There was a part of me that desperately wanted to free it but I remembered a parable told to me in my meditation course.  It’s the parable of the Emperor Moth.  In this story a man comes across a moth trying to free itself from its cocoon.  He feels sorry for the moth and its struggle so he opens the cocoon to free it.  The moth dies soon after because it required the struggle of breaking open its cocoon to strengthen its wings for flying.  In the attempt to free the moth, the man instead stole it of its opportunity to gain strength.  The removal of the moth’s suffering caused its death.  In suffering there is opportunity.

With this reminder of the need for suffering, I began to understand that the fly needs to suffer.  If the fly does not suffer, the spider will not be able to spin another web.  I began to weep.  An abundance of tears came flowing freely because I could see.  Suffering is necessary.  Without it, we are robbed of the opportunities to grow.  We are stagnant and dead.  In this moment of being an observer, my understanding of suffering had come full circle.  I recognized that I had painfully stumbled through suffering and made it to the other side.  The side of freedom.  I saw who I am.  I am a woman who has arisen from the ashes.  A woman who walked through the flames of suffering and allowed them to lick away the layers and layers of unnecessary fear.  I am the beautiful emperor moth with robust wings that fly.  I am the weed that found a way to reach for the sun.  I am the fly that needed to suffer to feed the spider.

I am life.
I am life.
I am life.

I embraced the suck.  I accepted suffering.  I held hands with my Mara.  I answered the call of darkness with a conscious and deliberate choice of light.  I am learning the form of my highest self.  Suffering has been my greatest gift.  May you, too, find the gift in your suffering.    I’l leave you with the words of Christina Rasmussen.  This quote gave me the nudge to surrender to suffering.
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I Want in the Game

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IMG_1984Last week the boys were out enjoying every moment of being snowed in and off of school.  I sat watching them through the window from the warmth and comfort of my couch.  I could hear and see their excitement each time they flew down our street on sleds.  But I was simply an observer.

I had this moment while I was watching them.  This moment when I recognized just how fully they live.  Every moment is for the taking. Every day is a new adventure.  They don’t allow fear to keep them from attempting some new trick.  Instead they fly forward with every ounce of gusto they can muster up.  If they fall, it’s not failure.  It’s an opportunity to adjust and try differently.  Snow, new people, trampolines, beaches, skateboards…all new opportunities to dive in and experience!  Without hesitation or expectation.

As I watched, I realized I want to be more like them.  More childlike.  Less afraid.  Fewer hesitations and expectations.  I don’t want to sit on the sidelines of life watching from behind a window.  No!  I want in the game! IMG_1986

The game was happening and it was not a time to be passively observing.  So I geared up to sled with the boys and raced down that hill screaming and laughing and experiencing the joy of being a participant.  I was living life beside them.

Later that evening I questioned whether I had consistently been avoiding moments or opportunities that required me to explore new ideas, push through fears, drop my preconceived barriers, leap without thought, or live with gusto.  I have sidelined myself often in the past.  This time my questioning brought me to an answer that I was really pleased with.  I was happy to learn that I have been making forward progress.  I am taking more risks.  I am opening myself up to ideas and experiences that had sat behind tightly closed doors.  For most of my life I have more often said ‘no’ than ‘yes’.  Now I am saying a lot more ‘maybe’ and ‘yes’.  And that feels amazing.

I started jotting down experiences I’ve had over the past few years that required me to drop my inhibitions and allow myself to be fully vested in life.  Some of these I’ll write about in more length.  Some are only significant to me.

  • I questioned my religion and became an atheist
  • I went to Haiti after the earthquake and volunteered at an orphanage
  • I tried on being a vegetarian and made it 8 months.  I’m ready to get back on the vegetarian wagon.
  • I started practicing yoga
  • I ran another marathon
  • I marked running HTC off my bucket list
  • I smoked weed
  • I moved and started a new life
  • I took a leap and started over with my husband
  • I floated in a deprivation tank (twice)
  • I tested not owning a microwave.  I will likely never own another microwave in my lifetime.
  • I signed up for an intensive journaling workshop
  • I went to a co-ed clothing optional spa and took my clothes off
  • I learned to SUP
  • I put purple in my hair
  • I started making all natural skin care products and selling them
  • I organized a girl’s weekend with brand new friends
  • I went off my anxiety meds and focused on more self-awareness
  • I submitted my paperwork to get my CVT license re-activated so I can get started on my career again
  • I said ‘maybe’ instead of ‘no’ to a friend who invited me to a progressive church.  I concluded with no but I gave it space first.
  • I accepted an invitation to write a children’s book and wrote it.  And I believe it’s good.

Fear is slowly losing its power over me and the more I accept fear, without fear having the control, the more I’m invested in this game of life.  Fear is in me but fear does not define me.  Nor does fear need to define my experiences.  I realize that we can coexist as long as I remember who’s in charge.  I am in charge.

I am in charge and I’m here to play!

I’d love to hear your stories in which you challenged yourself to push beyond fear.  Journey on, Readers.

 

A Secular Easter

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Three years ago Easter Sunday we attended our church just as we did every Sunday.  Only this Easter was different.  This year we were sitting in the pews not as fully committed members but rather as silent doubters of the beliefs we had naively clung to for 33 years.  But we had begun the slippery slope of questioning.  A slope so slippery that after the big Easter extravaganza held by our church and the traditional post church potluck with our Christ devoted family members, my husband boldly announced that he could no longer believe Jesus was raised from the dead.  There just wasn’t sufficient evidence to claim the resurrection as truth.  We’ve not set foot in a church since the moment those words came to life.

Smiths 2009 261Fast forward three years and here we are approaching our second Easter as a fully secular family.  Holidays as a newly secular family are still difficult.  Easter brings with it the expectation of church attendance.  It’s the one Sunday that churches have an amped up anticipation of new followers of Christ.  They solidly prepare for this day because they know that Easter Sunday brings in mass numbers of saved and unsaved.  Even the least religious of Christians will find themselves inside church walls sat beside the hundreds of other Easter Sunday pew occupiers.  Easter service becomes a service of massive proportions.  Pancake breakfasts, onstage productions with live music, actors, and tugs at the heart, life changing messages from the pulpit, communion, and alter calls.  It’s an all day event with our families.  An all day reminder of how much Christ sacrificed  for us.

Well, what to do when one has made the decision to leave that life behind, when there is no pancake breakfast or three hours of church?  What to do when that community of people is no longer your community of people?  Last year I think we just avoided the holiday all together.  We probably hid a few plastic eggs and called it good.  This year though, our boys are old enough to know that Sunday is Easter and with that knowledge comes the expectation that it’s a holiday to be celebrated.  We are ready to begin anew and start our own Easter tradition.  One that lasts all day and is a celebration of our new life.  Our resurrection.  Easter will be a day when the six of us wake up and appreciate that we don’t need to buy a new Easter dress or dress up, we don’t need to fight the church crowds or busy restaurants, we don’t even need to go around pretending the Easter bunny is real and delivers eggs filled with candies.  Instead we’ll make our own pancake breakfast, we’ll sit in the knowledge that we love each other as we are and there is no expectation of conversion or change, we’ll celebrate the really great freedom that leaving religion has granted us, we’ll celebrate that spring has arrived and maybe we’ll even have a super adventurous day of geocaching (a 21st century treasure hunt).IMG_0546

It was on Easter that our children became free to think for themselves.  Free to ask.  Free to seek.  Free to explore and find answers that fit.  Free to be who they choose to be instead of sitting in the belief that they are people in need of grace and salvation.  Free of a mandate.  Easter for us means freedom and that is definitely worth celebrating.

Happy Easter no matter how you choose to celebrate it.  Wishing you all a beautiful day full of love and family.