Category Archives: journey

40 Days Catholic: My Lenten Promise — Attitude of Gratitude

I’m Catholic.
I’m Catholic?
I grew up Catholic.

Catholicism has been a label attached to my identity since my infantile baptism. It was not a choice I made cognitively. Nor were the wrote memorization of prayers, Sunday school, or First Communion. It wasn’t until the 10th grade that I took any leadership in my Catholic identity. By this point I had been a Catholic for 15 years, and the decision to proceed with my confirmation was one of blind acceptance. No internal questions were asked; I did it because I wanted to, and because it was the next stamp in my Catholic passport.

Church in my family was a regular Sunday event growing up. It was never any fun, but I went and I followed all the rules. I stood up, I sat down, I knelt, I sang, I prayed. After church I got to eat donuts…so that was cool. If I wasn’t scraping the nail polish from my nails, I was playing interior decorator and imagining how the sacred space could house my four-poster bed, comfy plush couches, dressers, lava lamps and a closet that would make Cher from Clueless jealous.

Let’s face it, I was there because I had to be, not because I wanted to be.

As my journey with religion and spirituality progressed I drifted away from the Catholic church. I felt disenfranchised and unsupported. I equated the church with intolerance, patriachy and greed. I disassociated myself with the term Catholic. There was too much guilt attributed with my identity and I wanted to purge myself of it.

This is when I disovered Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco’s Ternderloin District. It was a place of acceptance, tolerance, and most importantly LOVE. Their weekly celebration uplifted the community through song and praise. They talked the talk, and they walked the walk. With liberation theology as their underlying tenet, they work to combat social injustices caused by poverty and social inequality.

Finally feeling connected to spirit and Self for the first time, Glide became my primary sacred space to worship in. As my journey into yoga started around the same time, the two spiritual practices began healing me of my Catholic guilt and began molding me in the spirutal being I am today.

Many years later, the concern about my catholic identity still lingered. Catholicism was my foundation. I can still recite the prayers and take comfort in the hymns, though it has been many years since I’ve stepped foot into my local parish. My journey along El Camino started with the intention of reconnecting to my Catholic identity, and in preparation I attended mass all summer long in France and Spain.

And then I walked.

I walked through all the questions and I came to recognize that my spirit is not Catholic, but that my identity is. My identity is also many other things now. As a result of my travels abroad and my daily practices I now identify as a yogi, a buddhist AND a muslim…and so much more. I see myself as part of everything and follow my own religion, the religion of my heart.

With all that being said, I can now explain my 40 day lenten promise. This practice was something that I grew up with as a Catholic, and I’ve given up everything from chocolates and candy to Facebook over the 40-day fasting period leading up to Easter Sunday.

This year, however, I have a new lenten promise. It’s not to give up anything, but rather to take up something. I racked my brain over and over and came to the conclusion that there are many things I want to do more of. In order to not overwhelm myself and to stick to my promise I’ve decided to write every day for 40 days. But not just to write about anything, I want to write on the theme of gratitude.

So, for the next 40 days I will be posting one blog a day about something that I am grateful for.

Attitude of Gratitude — Day 1: I am grateful for Glide Memorial Church for taking me in, opening my heart and allowing me to see that religion is not about intolerance and greed. Rather, it is about community, solidarity, radical inclusiveness, truth telling, hope, celebration and love. I am eternally grateful for that sacred space of worship as I consider it to be the catalyst of my higher spiritual journey. Thank you Glide, Reverend Cecil Williams, Janice Mirikitani. Rev. Karen Oliveto and all the beautiful souls who regularly accompanied me to Sunday service — Jessica Roach, Allie Thompson, Zannah Herridge Meyer and Erika Myszynski. I am grateful to your sources of inspiriation and your spirit!

lizzie

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I See the Moon, and the Moon Sees Me; A Tribute to Connection

I have come to realize recently that with all the twists and turns that that my life’s journey has taken thus far, across languages and cultures and countries near and far, the thing that remains ever constant in my life are amazing human connections. Though many miles (and even more kilometers) separate me from the vast majority of my soul mates, I live in constant gratitude for the connections I have made.

I’ve been ruminating on connection a lot lately, and something in the back of my brain keeps bringing me back to Malcolm Gladwell’s book, The Tipping Point. One thing that clearly stood out to me in his book was his classification of people as: mavens,salespeople, and connectors. In a nutshell, the mavens are the ones who gather and distribute information, the salespeople are the charismatic persuasive negotiators, and the connectors know and introduce lots of people.

Let’s just say that, at the core of my being, I am a connector. I know a lot of people.

I also LIVE  for connection. I live to make connections, and more importantly to sustain them. Therefore, I am not only a connector, I am a communicator.

One remarkable thing I have manifested for myself is a multitude of real, deep and intimate connections with a variety of friends and strangers alike. I have met amazing people on trains, planes and buses. On little French street corners and on Spanish  hiking trails.  I’ve met people in bars, coffee shops, yoga classes, clothing stores, lecture halls and dance floors. Each connection life altering in its own way.

Once we’ve met, I am never the same person again.

I have moments (like I am currently having) when I feel a total sense of awe and wonder at all the incredible people I have attracted into my life. How lucky could a girl get?! All these people who are  filled to the brim and boiling over with passion! Passion to change the world, to be leaders, and communicators, and educators, entertainers and healers. Each with their own different and unique enthusiasm; people who believe deeply in the power of food, and technology, the great outdoors, yoga, spirituality, social justice, travel,street art, music, improv comedy, language learning,  dance, lyrical poetry …and the beat goes on.

Being a connector/communicator, I do weird things like make lists of people I haven’t talked to in a while. I send songs on Spotify, emails and text messages. I also  indulge in lengthy phone conversations and especially Skype video calls.

Because to me, it is incredibly important to sustain relationships with the people I know and love; they are my motivation and my mirror. They push me to be the best possible me, and remind me that I am already the best possible me. They uplift me, they enlighten me, they illuminate me.

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So whether it is a 2 a.m. Skype date or an e-mail or a road trip or even a positive vibe that bridges the physical distance between us,  our connection makes my soul sing, my feet dance and my heart leap.

If it has been a while (and even if it hasn’t been), I would love to hear from you.

LOTS OF LOVE,

Lizzie

Enough, already! I’m Already, Enough.

The dawning of a New Year seems to spark in everyone a consciousness and awareness of their physical creation – the haves and have-nots of our manifestations. I like to take the time to look back on my year and laud myself for the triumphs and pat myself on the back for wading through the breakdowns, the losses and the “failures.” Each new year, I set goals and intentions, make plans, dream my wildest dreams and then settle back slowly into the present, filled with optimism that this year will be as good, if not better than the last.

However, this year, I’ve decided to go a slightly different route with my New Years intentions. I am starting from a place that I’ve never started from before, and it’s a place that needs nothing. No superlatives! I don’t need more money, I don’t need to be skinnier, and I don’t need more love in my life.

I am simply enough.

With this new mantra in mind, there is one thing that I do want to accomplish this year. I want to let go of old patterns that no longer serve my personal growth.

I plan on doing this with the help of one of my most powerful resources—my awareness.

This year I want to dedicate my focus to my awareness, to the “me” beyond me, to the observer.

But really, how can I get myself to a place where I can actually believe that I am enough? The power of thought is not to be underestimated, but I honestly believe that one needs to dig down deep—to really go there. My inner archaeologist wants to unearth some dinosaur bone patterns.

Consider your life to be like geologic formations. At a granular level, our solid form is but a mere collection of the material possessions, our name and reputation, physical body, and our mental thoughts. These collections build upon our past and make up the solid form we see as our “self”, though no one can claim to be their iPhone5 or their trek through the Andes or their curvy thighs. These are simply our sedimentary identifications, to  some we are very attached, and to others we’d rather pretend they didn’t exist at all. But all these attachments, whether we see them as a positive or a negative are not truly who we are.

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Thus, this year, I will be examining all my attachments: my memories, my physical possessions, my inner dialogues, my relationships, my body, and my health. And I will begin to look at the foundations that they were built on. I can tell you already that some of these attachments seem like they were laid with cement foundations, while others maybe are more talc-like and easily degraded. Where are there cracks in the foundation? Where am I solid and sturdy?

With this one intention of mindfully observing where I am, I must constantly come back to that place of enough. It is the one place that doesn’t need to add any layers of attachment, though paradoxically it allows me to whole-heartedly embrace all of them.

I am who I am, I am love itself, I am Lizzie.

A blessed New Year to you all!

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Falling or Flying? Uniting the Yin and Yang of Our Lives.

Sometimes when you fall, you fly. -Neil Gaiman

I was flying when I came home to the United States in mid-October, fresh off El Camino. I felt like I was moon-walking my way through my much anticipated transition home, and that there was absolutely nothing that could bring my feet back down to earth.

My 33 day trek across Northern Spain was like taking an extended yoga class. I had learned the 3 L’s — Living, loving and levitating.

Somebody rain on my parade, I dare you. I’ll just fly up past the clouds and wait for the storm to pass. NBD.

Well, something happened in my second week home that clipped my wings and knocked me to my knees. My present reality: No money. No job. No plans. Student loans payments. A long distance relationship(?!). Loss of independence.

A shit storm of struggles quickly grounded my feet to the earth, and then, laughing, pulled the rug out from underneath me. I found myself on my knees, hands pressed together in prayer.

So many thoughts whirling in my head. How had this happened? How can I get back to that place? How can I be that me again–that amazing, carefree, life-living, bad ass who had just walked across an entire country? Where were the attitudes of love and timelessness that I had just cultivated?

HOW had I let the fear, insecurity and uncertainty back in?

If this is reality, I thought, I prefer the opposite.

And there it was, that important word; the clue to the next piece of my puzzle. The opposing forces that hold us together, the yin and yang that allow us to fly, can ultimately break us down if we can’t find a way to unite and balance them.

Here are four new practices I have undertaken in order to unite the yin and yang and cultivate balance in my life:

1. Softening into discomfort: I have taken countless yoga classes where the teacher would  kick your ass through a series of asanas saying audacious things like, “Breathe into the discomfort” and “Are you clenching your jaw, gripping through your toes? Soften into the pose.” In those moments, I have usually wanted to round house kick the teacher in the head as sweat dripped from my furrowed brow and my arms and knees trembled. Holding chair pose for what feels like an eternity and a half sucksssss.

But the idea of softening into the discomfort is actually a practice that allows us to find our limits and then stretch them. Sometimes this stretch is just a second or two longer than our mind is telling us is currently possible. But over time, we can endure the discomfort for longer periods and build up strength.

If this practice can sculpt our buns and tone our arms, just think of the benefits it can provide to the most important muscle in our whole body–our kick drum heart!

All of the stress I have been experiencing recently had resulted in feelings of tightness and tension in my heart. I could physically feel a contraction in my chest and heart. I had to learn to cultivate awareness. When I start to notice this tension in me, I now take a deep tension releasing breath. Result? An immediate sense of relief. Usually the relief is fleeting, but as I gradually build and hone this practice, I am ultimately strengthening my heart muscle.

2. Shading my shadow: Having glimpsed a sliver of the perfect me, I was reluctant to admit to its opposite. Rather, I had hoped to dig my nails into perfection and hold on for dear life. In retrospect, I should have known that resisting this change was not going to end well…but hey, lesson learned, I’m only human and change is fucking scary.

So I began a quest to liberate myself.. from myself. I started by accepting the opposites and all that lies in between.

I began with the things that I don’t like about myself, and then I looked within to find the opposite. I began to see the contradictions. Oh yes, sooo many contradictions.

For example: I would give the world for someone I love, could also mean that I am capable of being selfish and self-preserving. But in between these extremes, there are 50 shades of grey (wink), and  I can be anywhere on the spectrum and it’s all me. It’s all gravy baby.

Tension relieving sigh….

3. Lightening and grounding:

This technique is awesome. It’s the alchemy of energy. It’s the transmutation of heaviness into lightness. Ultimately, we are capable of moving our heavy energy to places that need to be grounded, thus freeing space for lightness. By focusing on drawing the feelings of heaviness downwards to our feet, we are able to build a base that stabilizes and connects us to the earth allowing us to be light in our hearts.

Image I’ve started transforming my base metals into noble metals, boo yah!

4. Looking at the reflection in the mirror:

We are all mirrors of one another and we reflect our souls into the eyes of other beings.

Anytime you have a  negative judgement of another person, that same negative energy exists within you. Thus, we can practice releasing ourselves from the grips of judgement by committing to taking responsibility for ourselves. Whenever I feel an negative emotion as result of an interaction with someone else, I ask where its coming from within me and then try to peel back the layers and hopefully neutralize the negativity by uniting the two reflections.

Justin Timberlake nailed it:

You were right here all along
It’s like you’re my mirror
My mirror staring back at me
I couldn’t get any bigger
With anyone else beside of me
And now it’s clear as this promise
That we’re making two reflections into one

On this note too, we can also find kindness and love in each other. Start with yourself! Be kind to yourself, and then you can be kind to others. Love yourself, and you can love others. This will ultimately result in people being loving and kind to you. Sweet!

These techniques have helped me to cope with the fall. But in the end, we don’t have to be afraid to fall. Sometimes in those moments of utter confusion, chaos and shit we experience insight, enlightenment and love.

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So…

“Hang on to the wind and trust. You are eagle.”

33 Days of Dying

I awaken in the darkness. A corpse, a living corpse.

The dim stars emit light from the body of the cosmos.  Imperceptibly dead.

The dawn’s first light creeps up on the horizon; the pointed rays of day have come to slay night.

An eternal battle fought between the sun and the moon.

Each day– fearless– sun and moon gracefully embrace death.

In all their wisdom, they understand that death begets life.

Each day I Die with the moon and Awaken with the stars. A living corpse,

I am Reborn anew with the sun.

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A Tango With Ego

Whether I was taking long elegant strides or small, syncopated steps, each day I danced a passionate and very personal tango with my partner–ego.

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The composition of a partner dance are equal parts lead and follow. Each dancer, with his or her own purpose, comes together in a dance of mirrors in order to achieve unity. If the lead moves forward with his left, the follow steps back with her right. A harmonious yin yang of communication, in which the most accomplished dancers use their physical connection to incorporate the creative suggestions of their partner into their own style.

Anyone who has  ever tried to dance with a partner knows how truly complicated it actually is to achieve this unity. Thus, my dance with ego often looked more like the “white boy shuffle” than an elegant and well rehearsed tango. There were days where I strongly and confidently danced the lead. Other days I danced the follow, surrendering to my ego. No matter what position I took, when I followed the flow of awareness, the movements felt intuitive. However, when I tried to lead when I was supposed to be following, I would awkwardly trip over myself in a struggle for control.

I discovered very early in my journey that I was there to shed light and awareness on my ego. Guided by the teachings of Eckhart Tolle’s book, A New Earth, I embraced the challenge with determination and compassion. The 33 days that it took me to complete the Camino were very significant, because it was a sufficient amount of time to submerge myself in the depths. What’s more, the trail presented me with ample opportunities to come up close and personal with my dance partner.

My first tango was physical. As I laced up my boots on day three to set off from Larrasoaña, my left ankle felt as if it had been deeply bruised. The pain was excruciating and nothing, not even a good Spanish dose of ibuprofen (1 gram!) would make it feel better. The pain was hard to ignore and my ankle had swollen to epic proportions. Panic swirled in my chest, and the doubt began to eat away at me. I had anticipated knee problems and back problems, but not achilles tendonitis. I was scared, but  felt that my spirit was committed to Santiago and I was going to march on. The friends I had made in that first week were my motivation to keep up. I needed them. I needed the feelings they made me feel–comfort and safety.

It wasn’t until the end of my first week as I crawled 30kms into Logroño, however, that I became cognizant of my ego. As a result of trying to keep up with my friends, I was doing physical harm to my body. They had planned another 30km for the following day, but I knew it was going to be impossible for me. My legs felt like lead and my ankles were turning into cankles…terrifying on many levels. As I woke with the herd of pilgrims at 5:30 am the following morning, I looked at my friends and began to sob. I had to do what was best for my health, and I had to be OK with the idea of slowing down. No matter how hard it was on my ego to admit that I couldn’t walk on with them that day, it was one of the most crucial decision I made along the Camino.

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These sandals walked for 3 days when the boots were impossible.

Bringing awareness to my ego began the journey and the dance. From then on out, any time I began to feel the ego surfacing, I knew that I needed to find unity with it. Sometimes the ego manifested itself as a big hill to climb or a physical limitation that  forced me to slow down. Most times, however, it came as a comparison of myself with other pilgrims.

These comparisons often disguised themselves as small talk. How many kilometers had they walked that day or what time had they left the albergue whirled and twirled with my ego? Other times it was judgment of character that caught me off guard. When I found myself disliking other pilgrims for one reason or another, I had to ask myself, what is in them that makes my ego feel weak or challenged? What are they mirroring back to me that I am afraid of in myself? This question led to the most important question of all….

Who am I?

The ego, is essentially the I, me or we plus an identity tag. So, what is my identity and in what ways does this identity assert ego? More importantly, however, is there something that I can attach to my concept of “I” that neutralizes ego and brings balance and harmony?

Thankfully, the answer is yes.

Camino lesson number 2: “I am” energy and “I am” love. 

Quite simple really. No further explanation necessary.

Dance on.

El Camino: Talking the talk, walking the walk

The first time I ever heard about El Camino was from a German couch surfer I hosted in Sete, France in the early spring of 2012. From the way she explained it to me, El Camino was a “really long walk” across Spain.

Why would anyone ever want to do that?

Slowly but surely, however, without even knowing it, the Camino started to work its magic on me. I started meeting walkers left and right, all with different tales of how the trail  enriched and changed their lives forever.  The Camino snowballed into my life, getting bigger and bigger. The more people I met, the more experiences they shared, I began to feel excitement in the pit of my stomach at the idea of one day walking it too.

As I set off for Morocco in September of 2012, I was already mentally walking El Camino. I had spent the summer obsessively perusing the REI Web catalog and finally bought my boots and pack just before leaving the States. I also carried with me my rock–the one meant for the Cruz de Hierro. It was a beautiful slate-green rock I selected with care from the top of Mount Mansfield in Stowe– my home, and a symbol of my roots. This rock travelled with me, absorbing all of the energy I put into it for months on end.

As time ticked away, a year and a half flew by and I traversed continents, cultures and languages. In this time, I also told everyone and the mother that I planned to walk the Camino Frances.

Fast forward to the last week of August 2013. I’m sitting in my friends apartment in Paris, wondering if I’m really cut out for this. I was filled with doubt. My mental conversations went a little something like this,

“500 miles…that’s like, really far.”

“Will my knees hold out?”

“What if I get lost?”

“I’ll  be fine…I might die…No no, I’ll be fine…Right?”

“I have to walk, I told EVERYONE AND THEIR MOTHER I WAS GOING TO. Fuck.”

But the fact that I had told everyone I was doing it propelled me forward. I bought a guidebook. That made me feel in control. I bought knee braces and blister kits, a quick dry towel, and a camel pack. I felt sporty. I had train tickets and plane tickets and then one day, after a verrrry long  day of train transport,  I arrived in St. Jean Pied de Port, a green on green town cradled in the bosom of the French Pyrenées.

Still not sure if I was ready, but I was there nonetheless. I had talked the talk, and now it was time to walk the walk.

Camino lesson number 1: Just show up.

Honestly, nobody is ever truly prepared. You are not alone. No matter much (or little) physical training you’ve done, you’re feet will still hurt at the end of the day. No matter how light you think you’ve packed, there is still something lurking in the depths of your bag that is utterly useless. You will meet hundreds of people with suggestions on how to ameliorate your experience. Take some of them seriously, take others with a grain of salt.

So if you’re like me and you’ve over packed and under trained, fear not! You have approximately 33 days ahead of you to fine tune the details, to be blindsided by even more challenges you never could have anticipated, and to work through (walk out) the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual kinks you showed up with.

So just show up. A journey of 500 hundred miles begins with a single step.

Buen Camino.

ImageDay one: 765 Kilometers to go!

Notes from the Universe

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If you can get sure in your work, Lizzie, your dance with life, whether it’s in your home or the far flung reaches of the earth, understanding and appreciating your sacred place in eternity for the moment and the unrecoverable time that’s been bequeathed for the task, everything else will take care of itself.

And you can. Oh, Lizzie, you so can.

Tallyho,  The Universe

Sirsasana; On turning my life upside down

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“Yo this is story all about how my life got flipped right upside down.”    -The Fresh Prince

There have been countless moments in my life where I’ve felt like everything I’ve known to be true and/or comfortable has been flipped on its head. Some of these key moments include my freshman year of college in a big new city, the first time I ever traveled to a developing country, the first time I had my heart broken, the few (very special) times I met and connected deeply with soul friends, the first time I felt my beliefs lined up with those of an organized religion (!), my first yoga class, the first time I felt like my life was unplanned and completely up to  my discretion, and most recently, my first headstand!

I can still remember the day I “got into yoga.” My good friend and I were studying at a café and we decided that we should take a yoga class that evening to unwind and let go of all the stresses brought on by our fully loaded schedules. Like any good generation-y children would do, we Google searched yoga studios in the San Francisco area, and booked ourselves for the evening class at The Yoga Garden. That one class was all it took for me to become a sort of yoga addict. The Yoga Garden, and it’s community of wonderful teachers and zen yogis and yoginis became my refuge from the daily onslaught of school and work, and an place where some beautiful friendships blossomed like  lotus flowers. It was also the place where I began to track my slow (but steady) mental, physical, and emotional progress.

My yoga journey, like any good journey, has had its ups and downs. At the beginning, I was practicing 3-4 days a week at the Yoga Garden under the supervision of some of some incredible, loving and experienced teachers. I saw my physical form change, my concentration  deepen, and my heart open. I practiced regularly for a year and a half before I left San Francisco and relocated to France.

If SF was a peak, France was a valley. My practice became stagnant, I slept constantly creating knots in my once supple shoulders, and almost all together gave up my practice. And then, as fate would have it, I found myself months later in a bar in NYC where I had a chance meeting with one of my aforementioned soul friends. He encouraged me back to my mat, and for that I am eternally grateful to him. I practiced all summer long, surrounded by all the leafy green vegetation that beautiful Vermont has to offer, and in no time I was climbing back up a new, very different yoga peak.

Now, here I am, three continents later, hanging out upside down in Morocco. Yes! I finally (FINALLY!) did my first headstand.  This is how it all transpired: I was scared. I kicked off. I hovered. SO CLOSE. Then I fell flat on the tile floor. Fuck. But I knew I was almost there… and I knew I needed to trust myself more. So I prepped myself again. I kicked off. My feet hit the wall behind me. I did it! I had the support of the wall, but hey, Rome wasn’t built in a day… and support is a good thing anyway. When I came down my face was flushed and I was so proud I literally wanted to high five myself.

The headstand (according to my Google search) is the king of the asana poses, as it represents the masculine qualities of will power, clarity of thought and sharpness of the brain. It should shortly thereafter be balanced by the feminine shoulder stand which creates harmony and happiness. Who knew that these two inversions could bring such wonderful benefits to my life!?

I’m grateful for this new knowledge and this new level of my yoga practice. I’m certain that it will be very useful upon my next scary life transition, where I can most certainly expect to have everything I know to be true and comfortable  flipped on its head. Whatever the challenge or the fear, I now know that if I trust — even if I fall — turning my life upside can be an exhilarating and deeply gratifying experience.

High five,

Lizzie

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