On Dark Days & Making Choices


framed woman 3 tony rubino
Framed Woman 3 by Tony Rubino


I close many of the Yoga classes I lead by bringing people into the fetal position for a few breaths. This is the pose that our bodies first encountered, as we developed in our mother’s wombs. Here, I like to remind them—and myself—that one of the beautiful things about being a human is our ability to choose, and in so choosing make each moment new. Continual rebirth.

What I don’t talk about in those restful moments is just how goddamn hard that idea is to put into practice.

I had a dark day recently. The first day of my cycle is always challenging. I’m in pain, I’m exhausted, I’m navigating a veritable shitstorm of hormones. My go-to coping mechanism is marijuana and movies. I’m well-versed in all the things I can do to make the day go more smoothly: gentle Yoga, journaling, drawing, going for a walk. But when it hits, all that stuff seems to be almost impossible to actually accomplish. Yesterday, my shining moment was walking to the grocery store, and I nearly passed out at a couple points during that adventure, which made me feel incredibly insufficient and weak.

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The author, before my fear voice had developed to the point where I started questioning my own worth. With my older twin brothers.

Feeling weak is both anathema and constant companion for me. One of the loudest and most persistent voices in my head is the one that tells me my methods for handling my life aren’t nearly as good as they should be. I should eat healthier. I should exercise more. I should be more social. I should write more, draw more, pick up an instrument, clean my room, make more money, etc etc etc. Sound familiar to any of you?


I’m betting yes.

When I am in a situation where my whole self is weakened, especially by circumstances out of my control (my cycle, getting ill), that voice gets louder. It’d be super nice if it would recognize that, hey, I’m already laid out, maybe you could back off a while, but no. It’s like a relentless hunter, waiting for any bit of wobble in order to double down its attack.

My counselor calls this voice the Inner Critic. It is ever-present, always talking, and rarely useful. But, like all things in nature, it’s not entirely useless. This voice stems from our protective instincts. It’s the voice that said look out, I smell a saber-toothed tiger. It’s the voice that said don’t go any further down this alley. It’s the voice that said this guy is going to hit you if you stay with him too long. It has a place. It can keep us safe.

trappedProblem is, it doesn’t know how to tell the difference between life-threatening, and literally everything else. Elizabeth Gilbert describes this voice’s refrain as a monotonous, unending no. That’s the answer to every possibility: no. Am I doing enough? Am I worthy? Am I okay? No, no, no. Can I succeed? Do people love me? Will this work? No, no, no.

It’s stifling. It can be debilitating. But dammit, above all it’s so. Fucking. Boring.

So. We have the incredible ability to choose, it’s true, and that is a beautiful, wondrous thing. It is the only instrument we have when we want to change our lives. Everything else flows from this ability.

Riding next to the ability to choose is this occasionally useful but often just awful distillation of fear. For me, more often than I’d like, that voice has its hands firmly on the steering wheel, while my ability to choose is left riding shotgun, or even relegated to the backseat. It’s not that it isn’t there, it’s just that this mean, chattering monkey is in the driver’s seat.

But, but—this voice says—you let me get behind the wheel. All you have to do is tell me to move.

sunAnd this is the same message I get from many self-help books, articles on self-care, and discussions with well meaning people. It’s just a matter of taking control. Making those choices.

Only, this rhetoric reinforces the voice. If it’s that easy, and I don’t do it, that must mean I’m weak, broken.

And round and round she goes.

I don’t have an answer. Not of the magic bullet variety, at any rate. It seems to me, though, that it all comes back to love. Those times in my life where I’ve felt most in love with myself are the times when making those healthy choices have been easiest. In turn, making those healthy choices helped me more deeply recognize my love for myself. The cycle moves in both directions, towards darkness and towards light. Too, those cycles are never-ending.

Life is the constant miracle of joy triumphing over despair. And the constant heartbreak of despair overcoming joy. So it goes. So it always has, so it always will.

Continual rebirth.

Which is to say, if it’s dark now, hang on: the sun will rise again, and there are lessons in the night. And if you’re basking in the glorious light, give thanks, give thanks, give thanks.


I Remember… A Writing Challenge

hand on wood
Running my hand along the textures of the past.

In an effort to stretch my writer muscles and foster connections with other writers, I joined an online writer’s group set up by a couple lovely ladies I know from a book club I did last month. (The book club was for Big Magic by Liz Gilbert. READ IT.)


Amber and Chelsea, the organizers, have been gracious and industrious enough to design a six week long writing challenge going over three types of writing: personal essay, fiction, and poetry. The first installment is the personal essay, a genre I’ve been interested in exploring more after reading books like Hungry Heart by Jennifer Weiner, and working on the Making Her Escape blog.

The first exercise this week was to write a letter to our writer’s block, an assignment I had little trouble with. It turned out full of gratitude and understanding that, for me, writer’s block is really a signpost telling me that something is off, and needs to be looked at before I can go forward. I like directions, even if they can be frustrating.

photos floor
A lot to remember.

The second assignment, which I just finished, was to riff off Joe Brainard’s memoir, “I Remember”. The concept is one you might have found in various literature or creative writing classes: start each paragraph with I remember. Follow the rabbit trail. See where it leads you.


Chelsea is sharing her efforts through this challenge on her blog, a practice I—and others in the group—have decided to emulate. So when I sat down to write what I remembered, I had this grand idea of sharing it with all of you.

Except, I remembered a lot of things that aren’t ready to share. A lot of things that could hurt people I care about, or expose wounds that aren’t healed enough to be opened to the fresh air. The whole piece is ruminating on a topic that I have sunk my teeth into over and over, and will likely continue worrying being the meat is still releasing tasty juices. But, I have to wonder in this moment, if sinking my teeth into the subject actually keeps that wound on this side of healed. Or maybe it just needs me to chew and digest until I find something clean? I don’t know.

And the memories take on different flavors.


What I do know is that I will likely continue to explore what has become—and really always was—a mystery in my life. I want answers. I think it’s a common human thing, to want to know what makes things tick, or fail to tick, or tick to a different rhythm than we’re used to and therefore comfortable with.

I remember wondering what is truth.

I remember thinking nothing is, not really.

Nothing, and everything.

I guess it depends on who’s looking.

If you’re interested in joining this awesome group, Leap of Words, here’s a link. It’s a private Facebook group, but only for the means of keeping the work and words, we share with one another away from eyes that may not know how to support the delicate process of creative growth. I’d love to see you there!

Moving, Shifting, Changing: Welcoming 2018

huanchaco burger
One of my last days in Peru, at a burger joint in Huanchaco.

Welcome, 2018! I know this post is a bit late to the party since we’ve all been living this shiny new year for over a week now, but I’ve never been hugely punctual. It’s part of my dubious charm.


We all went through some crap in 2017. Our first year having a reality TV show celebrity known for his crassness and shady business dealings as the President of the US. Natural disasters that have made it seem, in the States at least, that the Apocalypse truly is nigh. Political and social unrest across the world, white supremacists coming out of the woodwork, threats to medical coverage and incomprehensible political machinations that seem to be systematically stripping the common people of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

cat collage
Cats of 2017, from Peru to Colorado to Washington.

That’s just on the big scale. I’ve talked to so many people who have gone through some wild and challenging events this last year, and I can include myself in that category. I came back from Peru and immediately started having symptoms analogous to PTSD. (I still can’t quite bring myself to say “I’ve experienced PTSD”, which is another exploration altogether.) I spent months crying in my teenage bedroom, completely unsure about myself, my direction, my life, my purpose, my existence. I spent months reconnecting with my mother. I traveled up and down the west coast volunteering at festivals and living out of the back of a truck with my partner. I lost myself for a while in my old life in rural Marysville, doing things and behaving like someone I used to be until a number of face-to-face confrontations with abuse, addiction, dishonesty, and disrespect made my eyes snap back into the open position.


Finally, at the end of 2017, I moved. Finally. FINALLY.

sushi bunk
Our bunk at a community house in Bellingham. If it looks chaotic, that’s because it is.


It’s a move I’d been needing for months, years even. A move out of separation and solitariness into connection and community. A move that has meant shedding layers, relationships, and situations that were keeping me heavy and blocked. It a shedding that is still very much in process, and which has brought up all sorts of feelings of being unworthy and unlovable. After all, even if my relationship with certain people was unhealthy, they were still my relationships. And, by virtue of having so few of these friendships, the ones I had seemed intractable and of enormous importance, even as they were deeply problematic.

You can never really tell what cards people are playing with, until they lay them down.

(I’m not saying friendship is unimportant. I’m saying that when you only have four or five people in your life, they take on more weight than any one person should ever have to carry. A situation which becomes especially detrimental when those relationships themselves are riddled with rust.)


Country living has its charm. Quiet nights, incredible views of the stars, daily visits by deer and hummingbirds. It can also be extremely isolating. When the nearest town is a twenty-minute drive and seems terminally devoid of all but the most struggling signs of community, it can be hard to maintain a sense of connection.

My new city is the opposite. (Except for the visits from the deer; they love downtown!) Full of vibrant people who bring themselves into the world through communion, through workshops, through discussion and communal living and art and poetry and D&D games and silliness and conflict resolution. There is part of me that asks myself to temper my response to this place, but there is a bigger part of me that says dig in, this is the good stuff.

travel collage
Oh yeah, we bought a motorhome. For one dollar.


I read a blog post recently from a woman who writes about her own experiences in community living. She expressed this feeling of bonelessness that comes from offering yourself to the world in the form of creative expression, allowing yourself to be vulnerable in a deep and very real way. On the other side of this jellied feeling there lays the possibility for breakthroughs. This feeling is a signpost that Big Magic is in the works.

I am not boneless, not now. But I feel the potentiality there, within my grasp. Here, I have access to people, structures, and thought patterns that make space for my own innovations and offerings—should I choose to do so. That part’s up to me.

May we all say yes to healthy vulnerability, discomfort, and breakthroughs a little (or a lot) more often in the coming year.

Shedding My Layers Part One: Polyamory

blog 11.1

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?


“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.


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.

blog 10.1
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.

Ayahuasca Tourism a la Pisac y Community

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.

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.

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.

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.

Getting Lost All Over Again



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.



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.