Shedding My Layers Part One: Polyamory

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You ask, “Why do you cry with such

sweetness all around?” I weep as I

make the honey, wearing the shirt

of a bee, and I refuse to share this

suffering. I play the sky’s harp. I

curl around my treasure like a snake.

You say, “What is this ‘I’ business?”

Friend, I’ve been a long time away

from my center. What you see here is

your own reflection. I am still raw,

and at the same time well-cooked, and

burnt to a crisp! No one can tell if

I’m weeping or laughing. I wonder myself.

How can I be separated, and yet in union?

-Rumi

“I curl around my treasure like a snake.” This line, in particular, has caught me from this gorgeous poem. It encompasses, to me, what I have so often done with my sense of ‘identity’. I have curled myself around pieces of information and used them to define me. It’s something we all do, to varying degrees. We identify as our roles: mother, husband, student. As our social standing: pillar of society, hermit, fuck-up. As our jobs. As our diagnoses. As our emotions. As our thoughts.

None of that really describes who we are, though.  This morning, I felt buoyant. That does not make me buoyant, but at one time I did feel this way. I have been a wife—that does not, in perpetuity, make me a wife. And so one. I’ve even changed names throughout my life, so that, too, is a wiggly definition. Yet, without these labels, I am left with…what?

Well, that’s what I’m starting to discover. What is under all these layers I’ve collected over the years? With each definition I shed, something new arises. A spaciousness comes to light.

I’ll give you an example, one that is really not fucking easy for me to own up to, because of the path that brought me to this point in my life.

blog 11.2When I was sixteen, I was given a book called The Ethical Slut. Many of you have probably heard of it, or read it. For those who haven’t, it’s an inspiring nonfiction work on the practice of ethical polyamory. I ate it up. I identified with the author’s views on love, and sex. This idea that we should be able to love freely and let relationships grow organically appealed to me immensely. That we shouldn’t be ‘tied down’ to one, monogamous relationship. That ‘sex is nice, and pleasure is good for you’. The information in that book took root, and from that point on I identified as polyamorous.

Fast forward a few years, to the point where I met my now ex-husband. We dated for a while, then broke up. Then got back together. Then, because of this identity—as well as another I won’t get into at this point—we broke up again. I wanted an open relationship, he didn’t. Then, we got back together, and I worked hard at pushing this identity under layers of repression. I didn’t address it. I didn’t explore it. I hid it. And six years later it exploded with the righteous fury of a really hungry zombie. The marriage ended, in part because I demanded an open relationship.

Moving forward, I tried to embrace this idea. The jealousy and discomfort that came up in the course of trying to model the kind of relationship and free-wheeling sexuality I decided I wanted did illuminate many things, but never quite became the tool of discovery I hoped for. Instead, I made myself miserable, and plenty of people I care about deeply were pretty miserable, too. Still, I pushed ahead, sure that I could just keep wading through until something started to shift and I could see the light. I kept hoping, believing, that there would come a time when me talking about polyamory to another person would feel natural, and not like I was dressing up in someone else’s clothes.

It never happened. But I wanted it to, so badly. Not in small part because I’d used polyamory as a cudgel to maim my marriage, and hurt a good man in the process. I had to be polyamorous. I had to be open, and sexy, and free-spirited because I’d built so much of my identity around this thing.

I curled around that treasure like a snake, and I was damned if I was going to let it go. It was me, after all.

Except…it wasn’t.

These last couple months—hell, these last few years—have been a thunderstorm interspersed with breaks in the cloud letting brilliant beams of sunshine in. Focusing now on the last couple months, I’ve found myself recognizing bits and pieces of clothing I’ve been wearing that don’t actually belong to me. Big bits.

Polyamory is one of them.blog 11.3

I’ve always liked to think of myself as counterculture. Too cool for school (literally). I have always kind of loved the shock factor that comes along with parts of my identity I collected, and polyamory is definitely good for a bit of taboo, a bit of titillation. But one thing I’ve come to realize is that adopting something with the hope that it will make people flinch, or lean in with a leer, is no different than adopting something with the hope that it will make them like you. It’s still acting based on what someone else will say.

Why polyamory, out of all the ‘shocking’ bits of identity I could have chosen?  Well, relationships are a sticky, tangled web. One that I have enjoyed losing myself in. One I have enjoyed escaping from myself into. For me, sex has been, at times, a weapon. An escape chute. A tool.

It has also been a joining of souls. A Divine experience. Transcendent.

At times when I’ve wanted to escape, I’ve used sex as a means to do it. I’ve used relationships as a means to do it. At times when I’ve wanted to be closer to God, I’ve used sex and relationships in an attempt to fill that uniquely God-shaped void. In the end, using sex and relationships at all has only ended in more suffering. They’re not tools to be used. They’re opportunities to celebrate, to practice gratitude and connection.

blog 11.4As I’ve grown stronger in my relationship with God, and as I’ve found a more personal relationship with Shiva in particular, this need I’ve felt to embrace polyamory has evaporated. It’s a strange feeling, but, like I said, there is a spaciousness left in its place.

I want to be clear that I am not looking down on polyamory for anyone else. I do believe that for some people it can be a holy, ethical, aware practice, and besides, that’s none of my business. I’m also not saying that I am totally closed to the possibility that at some point in the future I may find myself in a situation where having an intimate relationship with more than one person is truly my Path. But, I can guarantee, it won’t look anything like anything I’ve done in the past.

I am done using my sexuality as a place to hide, a place to escape, or a weapon to hurt. And that feels pretty fucking good.

Thank you, polyamory, for all you have taught me. I am sorry to all of those who have been hurt in the process. I ask for Divine guidance in the next steps of this journey.

Namaste.

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How To Go Back Without Going Backwards

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Me. 18. Mere minutes after getting my lower lip pierced.

I write this sitting in the bed I slept in when I was 16. Sitting in the room I lived in when I was 16. Staring out the window at the same view I saw when I was 16. I’m 31, now, but coming back to my parent’s house has forced me to look at many, many aspects of myself that I’d just as soon forget.

 

I just finished watching the first season of “No Tomorrow” (which I highly recommend, cheesy romance bits and all), and there’s a scene where the main female lead breaks things off with the main male lead because he won’t talk to his father. “I can’t be with someone who isn’t their whole self.” That struck a chord with me. I can’t BE someone who isn’t their whole self. I’m not willing to live a life unexamined, just because some of the really painful bits I’ve glossed over happened ten, fifteen, twenty years ago.

When I was considering coming here, instead of going to Seattle or South Carolina or wherever the hell else, I experienced a lot of anxiety. Was I admitting defeat? Was I returning to comfort for the sake of comfort? Would I fall back into those dark, angry patterns I grew so familiar with when I was a teenager?

Upon arrival, and for a couple weeks following, these thoughts plagued me. This room is even organized more or less the same way, with the dresser next to the window, the desk on the far wall. There are different things in the closet, different art on the walls. But the most important difference has nothing to do with the window dressing.

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Dug up from my ancient DeviantArt account

It’s me.

 

Yesterday, in search of collage material, I went through some files of old paperwork, school assignments, etc., that my mom had kept over the years. I found some startling things. A missing poster, that my mother made the second time I ran away from home. A letter, begging my parents to let me quit high school, written the day after my best friend came to me in the hallway and said, “You’ll never believe how many people don’t like you!” A scrapbook I made, half finished, with the last bit of paraphernalia a postcard that said I HATE EVERYONE.

Memories of my formative years, marked by pain. Feeling ostracized. Feeling unworthy. Feelings that have followed me, even as I’ve worked so hard to gloss over those years, put them in the past, let sleeping dogs lie. All that bullshit.

Because those sleeping dogs wake up. And sometimes they bite.

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Standing in my room. The flowers on the dresser are still on the dresser.

 

I also found, in those scraps of writing, a girl I recognize wholeheartedly. A biting wit that takes shit from no one. A strong sense of moral ground. A desire to be better, do better, share with the world. She wanted the same things I do, now, in many ways. “Inside you,” she (I) wrote, “is all the talent and ability you will ever need.” Which comes down to saying, “I am enough.

And I am. So are you.

And you.

And you.

I came back to my parent’s home for many reasons. To help my mom with the house. To gain wisdom, guidance, and companionship from my parents, my brothers, a few old friends. But mostly, I came back to put myself back together. To reunite with the girl I, too, set out in the cold.

I’m not going to lie, it’s hard as hell. But going back is the only way I’ve found that will allow me to move forward.

Here’s to you Caiti. Sara. Zandila. Eliza. Spiro. The girl with too many names.

You have a home here.

Take Your Shoes Off, Stay a While

 

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The front entryway in the little house that couldn’t

Home. The word is filled with so many connotations and expectations, many contradictory. For me, the idea of home conjure up feelings of security and belonging, which march hand in hand across my internal landscape with feelings of desperation and isolation.

 

 

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In my hammock at the Frog’s Chillhouse Hostel, Huanchaco, Trujillo, Peru

Looking back over my life I can see the times I’ve built a home, most notably with my former husband. We bought an adorable 1900’s era Craftsman about a mile from a developing downtown neighborhood. I loved that house, and for a while, I loved the life I lived in it. Dinner parties, two adorable cats, a husband I’d pledged my life to.

 

Not long after we moved in, however, the cracks around the seams began to show. They’d always been there, of course. The enormity of owning a house just made them a lot more visible.

 

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Next to the Ganges River, Rishikesh, Uttarakhand, India

I have a nomadic spirit. I have a troubled and deepening relationship with that spirit. For a long time, I told myself I needed a solid, stable life. Once I got that, happiness and peace would blossom. What happened, instead, was that my need for travel, newness, and adventure got wind of my plans for living in one place for the foreseeable future and started throwing fits.

 

At first, this manifested as a sense of diffuse heaviness. I would walk around the house, touching the walls, looking at the art we’d so lovingly hung, and wonder why I felt out of place. Then came the depression, sneaky for a while, until I found myself sobbing underneath my desk at work, frantically dialing a hotline for help.

I went to therapy after that. That morning had shown me, without a doubt, that something was seriously off. I couldn’t fix it by myself. My husband was opposed to the idea. He took the mindset that we could figure out any problem, with either of us or the relationship, together. I persisted. Unfortunately, my therapist decided the cure for all that ailed me was for me to return to school.

 

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In the kitchen at the MWH community, Taray, Cusco, Peru

I stopped going after four appointments.

 

Eventually, my marriage ended, in large part to that pesky nomadic spirit. I crave not just new destinations, but new people, new relationships, new experiences. My former husband craves security, guarantees. It’s not wrong, I think, just different. We needed different things.

Going back further than the marriage, the house, I can look at my childhood. I never felt at home there, either. As the youngest child, sister to a pair of twins, I didn’t feel like I had a solid place in my family. I grew up in a city I never loved, never really wanted to be in. Colorado Springs was too cold, too dry, too narrow-minded, too full of big box stores and four lane streets for me to feel at home.

So, what does home mean to me, now? It’s hard to say with any certainty. As I travel, people ask me where I’m from. Outside Seattle is my default answer. If they probe further, which they sometimes do, and start on the subject of home my answer is always—given quickly—India. It is the place I felt most at peace in, most myself.

 

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Dirty, dirty feet in my apartment behind Goody Goody’s Cafe, Arambol Beach, Goa, India

This afternoon I stopped in San Blas plaza after I ate lunch to smoke a cigarette. I sat on the wall in front of the fountain and slipped off my hiking boots. When I was in Arambol, I hardly ever wore shoes, preferring to dart around town and hop on motorcycles with my feet exposed to the earth. I felt a glimmer of this connection as I sat there, enjoying the sun as it faded behind a threatening rain cloud. When I finished my cigarette, I picked up my boots and walked to my hostel, the soles of my feet eating up the cobblestone roads. During those few minutes, I felt taller, more confident, more connected than I have since I got to Peru.

 

So maybe that has something to do with home, for me: it’s where I feel comfortable taking my shoes off.

Ayahuasca Tourism a la Pisac y Community

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The Sunday market, jam-packed with handwoven scarves, alpaca figurines, crystals, and-if you know where to look-huachuma and willkayopo powders

Pisac is an interesting little town, nestled deep in the Sacred Valley of the Incas. It’s about an hour collective ride from Cusco, and a major destination point for the alternative crowd seeking mind-expansion, healing therapies, and communing with like-minded people.

In fact, sacred plant tourism is so popular here that you can find advertisements for ceremonies posted in bathrooms, outside the tiny grocery store, even incorporated into the plastic covering of a few of the moto-taxis that navigate the narrow, cobblestone streets. Everywhere you turn you can see evidence of shamans from varying backgrounds, experience levels, and intentions vying for the tourist’s dollars.

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The view from the upper level of Ulrike’s, a westerner hotspot, with good wifi, papas fritas, and the best carrot cake I’ve ever tasted.

I came to Pisac with a different angle than perhaps many of the people I’ve seen roaming about town. The community I stayed in approached the sacred plants in a very different way than how I gathered many of the advertising practitioners do. I saw fliers touting ayahuasca weekends, or wee long packages, where attendees would have three or four ceremonies, sometimes back-to-back, with very little time for processing or integration in between. I heard stories of people being given ayahuasca, then left in a little room while music plays on a stereo. Still others who give the medicine, then fumigate people with noxious smoke in order to induce as much vomiting and physical unease as possible. I think, there, the idea is that it isn’t real medicine if you don’t puke your guts out.

The community I lived at has, from all I’ve gathered, a pretty unique approach. One that I’m not going to pretend and say I agree with completely, or even understand completely, but unique nonetheless.

To begin with, there is a heavy emphasis on service. How can I be of service to the community, to Life, to the medicine? It’s a question that raises a whole host of other questions. Like, what does it mean to serve?

There has been a lot of research done on happiness and belonging, and one thing that nearly every study comes up with is this idea that service is an absolute necessity for true happiness. Feeling like you are giving back, being useful in some way or another, is an underpinning of human health and well-being. We want to feel needed. We want to feel wanted. We want to feel like we are a integrated part of the human web.

So, members of the community engage in service, from everything to cooking to keeping track of bedsheets to creating medicinal plant tinctures.

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Boiling stock for dinner

Another big feature is the emphasis in the collective, and circle consciousness. This is one point that really threw me, which I still don’t really understand or know how to practice. The idea, from what I do get, is this: we are all part of a broader collective, at its largest level being the Universe. On a smaller scale, our collectives expand around us, starting with the couple, then your immediate family, on outwards to encompass your neighborhoods, schools, social groups, cities, states, countries, etc. So, being part of a collective is unavoidable. It’s just built into to existence. (Feeling like you’re part of the collective is a different story altogether.)

Circle consciousness is accepting and embracing the idea of the collective, and then moving your consciousness from the ‘I’ focused out to the ‘us’ focused. An example of this, in practice, is the approach they take to issues like depression, or illness, in the community. An individual who presents with a bout of depression is not depressed in and of themselves, but is rather manifesting a sickness/issue that is present within and arising from the community as a whole (and, by extension, humanity as a whole). As such, there are a lot of heavy discussions within the community, exploring situations up, down, and sideways. This, I think, is not something you will find in many ayahuasca retreat centers, where the emphasis is on the ceremony as opposed to the intentions going into the ceremony, and integrating what came after the ceremony.

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A view of the square from the Blue Llama Cafe

Despite the difficulties I had living in and integrating with the community, this approach strikes me as a far saner method than the majority of the alternatives. Of course, I’m speaking from a pretty limited perspective on the matter, having not explored any of the many, many alternatives available. One thing I’ve learned from my time on this planet is that there are energies among us that deserve respect, and reverence. The sacred plants—ayahuasca, huachuma, marijuana, tobaccos, amanitas, the list goes on—are among those that should be approach with humility and openness. The latter of which I readily admit I lacked during my time at the community.

The Shape Of Fear

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A pair of lovebirds in Pisac

What is the difference from the fear our mind creates to stop us from pursuing what is good (albeit challenging), and the intuition our hearts give us to avoid something that truly won’t serve us?

It’s a question I’ve been looking at a lot over the last few weeks. Living in this community has given me the opportunity to make myself vulnerable in a lot of ways, including entering into ceremony with ayahuasca and huachuma. I have persistently avoided many of these opportunities. Sitting out on meetings of the members of this community where they talk about whats going on in their lives, traveling to the hot springs for a ‘vacation’ instead of going into ceremony, isolating myself in a dozen different ways so I can keep myself protected.

In many of these cases I’ve made the choices I have out of a lack of trust, and faith. In the case of just talking, it’s a lack of trust that my thoughts and feelings will be valued, or even heard. Or, very closely associated with that, a lack of trust in myself that I will have the courage to say what I mean, and articulate it well. If I do go into these situations, manage to summon up my courage, then manage to say what I mean in the way I mean it, having those thoughts overlooked or scorned would be (it feels) more heartbreaking than keeping them inside.

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Lares, the hot springs I went to instead of entering ceremony

With the case of the ceremonies I sat out of, it was a lack of faith in the medicine, as well as the community. Going into the space of ceremony is a huge step towards vulnerability. It means opening myself up to powers beyond my control, way beyond my scope of understanding, in an effort to connect with them and learn from then. The thing with learning, though, is realizing that what I already know may be false. Sometimes very, life-changingly false.

Brene Brown is a social researcher who has focused her research on shame, guilt, and vulnerability. You’ve probably heard of her, and if you haven’t I highly recommend checking out her TedX talks on YouTube. She emphasizes the importance of vulnerability, and its ability to connect us with ourselves, our loved ones, and the world at large.

“Through my research I’ve found that vulnerability is the glue that holds relationships together. It’s the magic sauce.”

I agree with her, in many, many ways. Yet, I find it increasingly difficult to live by this belief, to practice it consistently, when the act of being vulnerable opens me up to so much potential pain. It is difficult to feel invisible. It is far worse to try to be seen, try hard, and feel like I’ve failed.

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A bit desolate, the external mirroring the internal

So, in many cases, I stop trying. There are a few exceptions, a few relationships in which I consistently feel seen. I treasure those, and do what I can to nurture them. And the rest? Well…oftentimes I don’t even give them a chance.

I finally entered into ceremony a few days ago, with ayahuasca, and lived through one of these experiences of trying to put myself out there and getting knocked back. Through the whole ceremony I felt ignored by the medicine, ignored by the sacred fire, and apart from the group. It seems, to me, that it was a clear sign telling me what I’ve felt from the day I arrived: That I don’t belong here. I shouldn’t be here. I have other things I need to do, people I need to meet, places I need to see.

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A tarot reading Steven and I did, not long after we arrived. The question was: What is each of our resistance, and how do we move through it? The answer to moving through? Accepting Divine medicine. I have yet to take the reading much to heart, but…

Is it fear talking? Fear that if I try, again, to put myself in that place of vulnerability that I will once again be knocked down? Or is it my heart, my gut, my instinct, and the Universe telling me something? The two voices sound eerily similar sometimes.

For the time being, I know the choice I need to make: I listen to the voice telling me to leave. Perhaps it comes from a place of fear, perhaps a place of instinct. I low it is colored by the need to establish my own, deeply personal reasons for being or not being here, not just because Steven is here, or Pumpkin is here. I have to know I have made the choice for myself.

If I return, I want to do so coming from a place where I am willing to be vulnerable. What point would there be to come from anywhere else?

Jumping Into The Fire Without Clothes On

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Afternoon moonlight

An interesting thing has been happening in the community I’m staying at. For the last couple months everyone has been working very hard to prepare for a group of visitors who arrived a couple days after we did. Since their arrival, the focus of the community has been, for the most part, keeping this group happy. Often, this goal has come with the consequence that a large portion of those not directly involved with these visitors have been left somewhat to the wayside. Resentments have emerged. Stress has worn people thin. Conflicts in personalities and approaches have resulted in confrontations and the occasional low-level exile.

I came at a strange time. I know this, because everyone keeps telling me. Steven, who spent several months here last year, has something to compare the current state of things against. I, on the other hand, do not.

Maybe that’s a good thing, if I can be patient enough to ride it out.

Coming into a community like this can be difficult, even in the best of times. There are a lot of unwritten rules, expectations, and procedures that you have to learn in order to really get into the flow of life. Coming along with all those things will inevitably be questions, at least for me. Why does this work this way? And without answers to those important questions, the rules can feel very arbitrary and, many times, contrary to my own set of beliefs.

Every day, often many times a day, I come to this point where I hate it here and want to run as fast as my feet can take me in any direction that points away. I don’t know these people, except for a few who I have very little interaction with at this point. I don’t have an investment in this community. The strongest tie—and really, the thing that has probably kept me here to this point—is the cats. Second to that is Steven. He comes second, because I can actually sit down and explain to him why I’d be leaving, whereas it’d just be abandoning the cats.

Why, then, could this possibly be a good time to come?

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For the parties, of course 😉

When I was a kid, I used to approach my dinner plate with the motto: eat the worst, first. Get it over with. Deal with the thing Mom is going to make me eat anyway so I can enjoy the rest of it without that thing hanging over my head. That’s kind of the approach I’m trying to take here. I get to see this community worn thin, when the nasty attributes that manifest in the face of stress and sleep deprivation come to the surface. I’m not saying that after this it’ll all be sunshine and rainbows, but at least I’ve gotten a dose of the worst, first.

This approach does not wholly convince me. I’ve told myself, and plenty others, that I am giving the community a solid month, after the crazy-making event is over. At the end of that month I will look back over everything, and decide if this is where I want to be.

I’m reminded of my first couple weeks in India. I spent a large portion of that time in my room, on my bed, crying and sleeping. I felt out of place, alone, lonely. I was disenchanted with the contradictions I saw between the holy city of Rishikesh and the way the people treated the animals. Culture shock is a real and heavy thing. Even five weeks into my trip I was still seriously considering leaving.

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The author, communing with the local frutas

There is a question that comes to my mind sometimes, that I haven’t really found the answer to: When is it time to cut my losses from what is truly a bad situation for me, and when is it time to invest a little bit more hope, a little bit more energy, so I can come out the other side stronger? It’s a delicate balancing act that requires listening to the heart and the gut. Practices that require, well, practice. The still, small voice of truth inside all of us can be hard to discern from the whirlwind of fear and opinions that usually rages within. The more we listen, however, the louder it gets.

Getting Lost All Over Again

 

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One year ago, today, I was in Rishikesh, Uttarakhand, India. I had finished my 200 hour yoga teacher training and was in the thralls of trying to decide whether I would come back to the United States pretty much immediately, or change my plane ticket for the second time and stretch out my trip.

I chose the latter.

At the time, I had people calling me back to Washington state. I felt the urge to return quite keenly. Going back to a place I knew, to people I knew, to a culture I understood and roads I wouldn’t get lost on was so appealing. There’s comfort in the known, in the expected.

There is also stagnation. Murk. An ever receding line marks the edges of that comfort zone. The longer we stay inside that line, the closer it gets to exactly where we stand.

So, I did what I’ve done a dozen times before: I threw a bomb, right into the middle of what was calling me back.

Then I changed my plane ticket.

Like any bombing, there were casualties. The people involved are still nursing wounds, to one degree or another. But, that’s life. Sometimes people get hurt. When we put expectations on one another, we’re only asking to be let down. So, I got let down. I let other people down. And I continued my journey.

 

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Today, I’m back in Washington, but not for much longer. I stand on the precipice of a new adventure, much like I did in Rishikesh one year (or was it a million years?) ago. In a little over two weeks, I leave for Peru, along with my partner and two cats. This time, I was wise enough not to book a return flight, because who knows what’s going to happen when I get there?

I felt a lot of fear before I went to India. I felt a lot of fear before I decided to stay in India. What I feel now has elements of that same kind of fear, but it’s different. Or, maybe, I’m different.

My faith in a supportive universe has grown exponentially in the last year. My fucks given about what other people think of me and think they need from me has dropped dramatically. The combination of those factors puts me in a pretty solid place, I think. Ready to break away from the comfortable, lift my arms, and dive into the next chapter.

I’m ready to get lost again.