The Still Life.

After my second “vacation” home (to Los Angeles in April, and Connecticut last weekend), I’m surprised to find a palpable landing back home in Florida. My travels around the country to see loved ones, friends and family, and to frequent my old stomping grounds, came with all the usual emotional turbulence one would expect. Happy and those less-than-happy memories surfaced, and the intangibility of home (“Stop this Train!”) reminded me of the inevitably of aging, impermanence and my own growth.

I found myself in an odd predicament, as I prepared for my high school reunion. (Yes, I planned it. Yes, I was class president. But no, I am not any longer! I’ve retired.) The familiar stress of event planning and on-site logistics, paired with a few unfortunate hiccups in the long days that preceded the event reminded me of my high school self: Eager to please, relentlessly offering my energy to others yet so drained as a result that I miss much of the experience myself. This is my pattern. I miss quality conversations with old friends and I might be seen (I’ve been told) as self-centered for my “lack of caring about others” when the time for chatting came. Instead, I hover close to the bar overwhelmed, jittery and foggy-feeling. The show must go on.

We like to paint pictures of what something “should” or “would” be like. I had one for this milestone event and I know others did too. But ultimately, my proudest memory was right before I left the house. I had answered all the questions, called all the vendors, secured the decorations, arranged the guest list, collected, deposited, and disbursed funds, and on. The only thing left to do before I left the house was be still. I looked in the mirror, one last make-up check, and was surprised by a tsunami-like welling up of pride.

Though I might still fall into old patterns from time to time, I am aware of them. And awareness gives me choice. I found myself proud, not of who I am on paper – business owner, Masters degree holder, international traveler, author – in fact, speaking to these “titles” like accusations actually triggers some nerves. These are roles that I play, that I am honored to hold. They do not define me. I am not that.

As I looked in the mirror, I felt a startling ease and affection for the person staring back. I trust her. I’m inspired by her strength. Her ruthlessness. Her endurance. I admire that in the hardest, darkest times she continued to extend her arms, heart and mind to others. (Even though she should have been home prioritizing self-care.) When there was nothing left to give, she gave whatever she had left. She knows who she is unapologetically. And in recognizing there are many things she doesn’t know, she moves through life differently than before. Her ego, and eyes have softened.

I went forward to the reunion and enjoyed the following day with extended family, feeling immersed in a sense of (relative) calm and all-encompassing love.

Of all the changes I’ve made in the past ten years – the cross-country moves, the ass kicking’s and getting my ass kicked – there are a few lessons I feel have changed me the most:

I now know that the purpose of life is to love. That being still is not a sin. That finding stillness is not shameful. That being “productive” is not required to “succeed.” I’ve softened.

My gaze is no longer dominated by a sense of fear, confusion or disillusion, but is held with compassion, understanding, and tenderness. My heart affirms my own personal mantra and place in the world (which coincidentally, is likely yours too):

I will accept you no matter what. I will love you no matter what. I will be the best I can be, and accept my imperfections. I will set boundaries to protect myself from those who might misuse or abuse my energy. I will be present when and as often as I can, and permit myself to retreat into solitude as needed to recharge and re-energize. I will surround myself with people who support me and my goals without judgment, and allow for them to change and evolve with time.

I will love as often and as much as I can bear. I will understand when love cannot be returned and hold space for forgiveness, healing and growth. Even after being hurt, I will continue to love. Fulfillment is love. Look no further than those closest to you. They and you are all you need.

I’ve come to see that finding stillness is both the means and the end. A still life in the present moment is a happy life. I intend to spend the rest of mine pursuing exactly that.

Stop looking, you’ve already found it. The still life.

My heart whispers: Rest easy, you are perfect. And I think that one’s for you.
All bound up in love, devotedly yours,

Amy

 

Perfectly Imperfect

All of a sudden, I feel like Britney Spears. She was right. I’m not a girl, not yet a woman. And, it f***ing sucks. Excuse my language.

I have become more adult in the past six months, it feels, than ever before. Although this could be attributed simply to my fleeing Los Angeles (where adult children thrive) in my new role as a business owner in suburbia, there’s also been a lot of other shifting. Shifting into a sense of suddenly knowing. Knowing what? Ironically, I have no idea. And yet, a calm persists. I’ll take it.

[Shakti rams her head against my leg in a rewarded effort to engorge her beef meaty bone.] Perfect imperfection is a practice I’m embracing full force. It means that I can arrive 10-15 (sometimes even 20) minutes late to any engagement and feel justified; I’m imperfect. Haven’t you heard? I still feel terrible but send an early notice text that I’m running behind. I’m imperfect after all. And that’s all imperfect people are expected to do. Move forward. Be human. Embrace whatever’s happening with humble honesty. We’re all imperfect after all.

So, I’ve found some of the happiest moments during my indulgence in imperfection. It’s a painful thing to lose people due to a perceived imperfection, or several – just because nobody’s perfect. I’ve found that many of the people I admire most in my life have lost others through a prolonged misunderstanding, or unresolved disagreement. It’s a painful point, but I’ve realized that self-conception is everything. And that if I can truly live with myself happily, I’m more able to live with others well. I honor the moments of my imperfection as benchmarks and growing pains. Anyone who can’t wait out my darkest moments doesn’t deserve my best and brightest. An unfortunate truth.

I’ve learned that honoring myself is an acceptable first priority. I’m ever grateful to the many strong women in my life who have encouraged me to feel, honor and acknowledge the difficult moments in my life. The sooner we acknowledge our vulnerabilities the stronger we become. I believe it, and I’ve seen it. I’m ever stronger from the village and tribe that has emerged in this community. With me, not from me or for me, they thrive; we thrive.

It’s clear how we can be happiest in life, finally. Loving others, serving others, loving yourself, serving yourself. From there, everything else comes easily.

More adventures to come no doubt. Just an update to let you know I’m thinking of you. Like love notes from my heart…I’m inspired to approach life with curiosity, because I have a reason to share it. Thanks for reading.

Cheers/YOLO/with gratitude,
Amy

You Belong Here

“There is nothing to fix. Each one of us is made to fit our lives. Precisely. The measurements are exact. The tailoring is to a tee. The height. The width. The depth. It’s perfect. We need not ever struggle to fit into the fabric of ourselves…”

My favorite astrologist, Chani Nicholas, beautifully integrates her advanced wisdom of constellations and universal constructs to bring a meaningful voice to the motion of the cosmos. Another Full Moon. What can it really mean? Regardless of the literal efficacy of horoscopes, there is meaning, inspiration, motivation and strength to be derived from knowing that we are but one small piece of this world, and we are not alone.

This week, Chani divulges on the Full Moon in Virgo, as each full and new moon presents an important variable for the most subtle aspects of our world – including and especially our moods, our thought fluctuations, our consciousness. She brings simple awareness to the fact that we are all connected, and important. I find myself taking her words to heart each week, and hope you might find they fill your heart during this Full Moon as well…

You Belong Here

There is nothing to fix. Each one of us is made to fit our lives. Precisely. The measurements are exact. The tailoring is to a tee. The height. The width. The depth. It’s perfect. We need not ever struggle to fit into the fabric of ourselves.

We are all complex, paradoxical, flawed. As we fumble, topple and blunder our way out of the messy cocoon of unconsciousness (an ever-evolving, never-ceasing emergence), we do so perfectly also.

But we worry that we are wrong.

We fear we are ill-shaped. We fret that we were a mistake. We wake in night sweats, covered in panic’s perspiration. We question the meaning that makes us. We second guess our nature. We refuse our resplendency. We want to be another. We are taught to be other. We want to be in accordance with life, but we tend to attack our own.

Not fitting is excruciating. It’s excruciating as long as we try to fit. Or fix. Or make different our distinct markings. If we added up the hours spent counting the things”wrong” with us, we would be buried under a heap of lost time. What could we do with the energy otherwise? What life can we steal back from what the internal naysayers took? What will we do when we discover that we are as we were meant to be.

Have you ever felt this way? Lost, lonely, lacking. I know I have, more than once…and regardless of the “truth” it’s safe to say that believing that you already fit, and that you’re already perfect will bring much more happiness and bliss than you could hope to find any other way. When I practice believing in my own perfection, I find that I am perfect – there is no more pressure to change. But, when I do get lost in what others say or think about what I should be, should say, or should look like, I find I drop deeper and deeper into my own confusion and withdrawal. I get tired, quiet, and frustrated. I feel sorry for myself.

What I’ve found is that being yourself is liberating. Believing in your own innate goodness, believing that you don’t have to change for anyone, is a gift that no one can take away from you. And it’s a gift that only you can give yourself. Try it. Live yourself, love yourself and be free from outside perception. When you forget or begin to waver – as is human nature – come back to your own perfection. I hope you might find that loving your own unaltered integrity is the satisfaction and belonging that we’re all really searching for. Inner peace. Liberation. Acceptance.

Time and time again, I forget I have nothing to prove. But thanks to Chani’s words this week, I remember, and can strive to come back to this place time and time again.

It’s already in you.

Happy Full Moon! May you find peace and blessings in every corner you explore in the coming month and always.

// Find more and/or sign up for weekly (free!) horoscopes from Chani at her website: http://chaninicholas.com/

Give in to Comfort (+ Recipe)

O’ tidings of comfort and joy! Comfort and joy… I’ve never stopped to consider these lyrics before, but giving a nod to a holiday classic, I’d have to say that word choice here is key. Tidings of comfort can allude to many things, such as that of family, of warmth – both physical (hanging fireside with hot cocoa) and emotional (open hearts and widespread generosity), of abundant food and ideally of relaxation. To feed yourself [and others], to love yourself [and others], to celebrate love, life and gratitude for all that you have. For an old church hymn, they’ve covered a lot of ground. (Good work, ye merry gentlemen!)

Of course, like any good celebration, the holidays come with their fair share of temptations and frustrations (and did I mention, expectations?). So, if you’re like me, the pre-Thanksgiving time is marked by a bit of anxiety. Excitement for a season of family and friends [with their respective social outings and get togethers], and a looming hope that you don’t get too carried away – with your holiday shopping, long-nights out and working overtime, heated dinner-table discussions with relatives, or double chocolate fudge [martini] indulgence. How do we walk the fine line between indulging in the comfort of the season and not over-indulging? It’s a difficult balance made much simpler by approaching the season with mindfulness – remembering that indulgence foremost means caring for yourself.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you look forward to the comfort and joy of the holiday season! (And to relieve any lingering anxiety over all the goodness yet to come…)

Bubble baths. To me, bubble baths are the ultimate form of indulgence. For you, it may be something else – perhaps reading a book or having a glass of wine by the fireplace (actually, I change my answer…) Take time during your time off this holiday season to indulge the way you want to. Too often in the past, I’ve felt the holidays have come and gone without allowing myself any time to relax. But I’m giving you permission – you can even put it in your calendar! – to make time for yourself, as often as you can, to indulge this holiday. (I’m talking bubble baths, candles, home facials and red wine…) You’ll be just as grateful come January, when you return to your routine feeling rested and rejuvenated 😉

Taste everything. As I’ve said before: Food is love! And you deserve only the best. But, of course, the best includes Gramma’s seasonal batch of double chocolate fudge and late-night pizza with high school friends. Don’t deny yourself a single thing this holiday, but do allow yourself [in most cases] just a taste. (Don’t panic – for me, this translates as one piece of fudge or 1-2 slices of pizza. Make it as realistic as it is delicious.) Ultimately, you have control over how much of what ends up on your plate. Start off with a taste of everything you want – one or two spoonfuls (use your judgment) – and then pick the thing (or two) you liked the most and go back for more! For dessert, go for that big ol’ slice of pie – but be kind to your body, pick just one (big) or two (small) things. And if you’re feeling bummed about missing out on a second piece of pie or that other tasty treat in the back, take one home for tomorrow or split with a friend. (I sometimes have to remind myself, there will be many more chocolate chip cookies in my future. No need to eat them all now!) Allow yourself to indulge in all the comfort of the season, while remembering to care for yourself foremost. This is key to avoiding next-day belly aches and painful hangovers at the holidays – and throughout the year, tried and true!

Stay Well. A lot goes on during the holiday season, you could even say it’s gained a reputation for stirring the pot. High emotions – of grief and loss, of being over-worked and exhausted, of frustration and anger, of fears and expectations for the coming year – often associated with the season are compounded by high stress, a natural derivative of the holidays. Acknowledge this, and even excuse yourself in advance. If and when things do come up, let them and then let them go. Take care of yourself and care for others. Greet stress  with as much compassion as you can muster. Remember that over-indulging in one thing, won’t relieve the burden of another. Give yourself the courtesy of acknowledging what you’re feeling as it comes up, and then take a step back and check out the big picture (“I’m really exhausted from being so busy.” Or, “I just miss my family, a lot.”) Then, from that place, decide how you’ll react. Take a nap, cook dinner for a friend, call a loved one, or hit a yoga class; indulge in a way that’s constructive and that won’t further aggravate yourself or others. Give yourself some love, and stay well.

Coincidently, these three are also a recipe for joy. I didn’t fully understand the meaning of joy, nor did I take much interest, until I challenged myself to follow these steps to the best of my ability, everyday (about a year ago this holiday). Since then, my constant belly aches have gone away, stress has become more manageable, I get sick less, I feel better, and I eat everything I want (but usually, just a taste). Caring for yourself is foremost. Once you can sustain a healthy balance of giving unto others (i.e. work, friends & family) and giving in to comfort – there is only joy. (Although, I’ll be the first to say this is an ongoing process, it’s certainly a commitment worth making to yourself, and for others.)

Live well and be well! ‘Tis the season of comfort & joy! I’m looking forward to spending quality time with friends and family in the coming weeks and wish you all of the comfort and joy that this season brings!

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As the weather gets cooler – and the urge to curl up on the couch gets stronger – I thought I’d share a recipe to put aside for your next night at home. Just keep a box of Annie’s handy and add other goodies as you see fit! Bon appetit…

This is a favorite variation to spruce up my favorite comfort food. I encourage you to add, subtract and modify to make it as delectable for you.

Veggie Bomb [Buffalo] Mac n’ Cheese
(Makes enough for two, or one with leftovers!)

Ingredients:

  • 1 Box Annie’s Mac n’ Cheese (I love the “white shells,” but you can use any brand or variety you like. I’d recommend sticking with organic or whole wheat, if possible.)
  • Buffalo Sauce (Franks or any variety. Hot sauce works, too!)
  • Almond milk (or soy or organic dairy. I wouldn’t recommend using coconut milk here, as it’s consistency isn’t ideal for the “n’ cheese” to follow)
  • Kale and/or Spinach (or any dark leafy green in your fridge)
  • Celery, 4 stalks chopped
  • Consider adding: chopped tomato, red, green or hot peppers, onion or broccoli, as desired

Protein, optional:

  • Tofu (firm, cut into cubes), boneless chicken (thin tenders are easiest) or chicken sausage

Directions:

  • Cook pasta according to box. Chop celery and put aside.
  • In a frying pan, layer the bottom with buffalo sauce (no oil necessary, but optional) and allow protein to cook in sauce. Tofu can be heated 5-10 minutes; chicken may take longer or can be pre-cooked. Add celery to frying pan and let simmer.
  • Once pasta is cooked to taste and before draining water, turn off stove and stir in leafy greens as desired. (The hot water in the pot will cook up the greens without overcooking the pasta. If you forget and drain accidentally, that’s all right – just add greens to frying pan with celery.)
  • Drain water, add milk n’ cheese, stir and let sit a minute or two for sauce to thicken.
  • Combine all ingredients and enjoy!

Also – if you’re in need of any ideas for your Thanksgiving potluck, I’ll be cooking up some California Oatmeal Cookies with cranberries and dark chocolate chips 😉

Stay Well ❤

Amy

Personal Photo: Santa Monica Pier summer concert series, circa 2013