Love letter to a friend.

Dearest,

There is a mantra that we have been singing in yoga over the past few months: Lokha samasta sukhino bhavantu. The translation Maya offered is: “May all beings everywhere be happy, wild and free.”

Every time we sing it I think of you. As I chant along with Maya, my eyes fill with tears. I hold this wish for you so deeply in my heart – with so much love –  and I know without a doubt that it is God’s will for you. I am also filled with gratitude as my certainty for you fills me with faith that this can also be true for me. When I think of all the suffering you have endured throughout the course of your life, particularly over the past few years when I have had the true honor of walking by your side through the pain, the thing that shines through it all is the courage you continue to exhibit to pursuit love, freedom, joy and serenity above all else. Your enthusiasm for life and the ability you have to bring joy and beauty into just about everything is a magical quality that you must never – and I know will never – lose. 

I know these past few years have been hard and painful. I know you have felt at times like God abandoned you, and perhaps even like some of us – your friends and family – had abandoned you too, and – perhaps worst of all – as though you had abandoned yourself. The miracle is that we are never abandoned! When we commit ourselves to this work – to this God-guided path of and towards love – we learn how to walk steadily beside ourselves, in partnership with God and each other the whole time. And abandonment shifts. It loses its power. It doesn’t disappear, of course. I am still filled with fear regularly, catching myself in it and having to pull myself out with firm compassion. But somehow it no longer feels life threatening and there is so much more ability to trust myself and God, to trust that the end of all of this is a life filled with love. 

There are so many words you have spoken to me over the years that I will never forget. A couple of months ago you asked me to envision one of my worst fears realized and, in the face of that, Harper and I being enveloped in love. That is the ticket. That is the key to being happy, wild and free. The worst happens and instead of falling in on ourselves, losing it, self-destructing, gritting our teeth and bearing it, or betraying ourselves – instead of any of that, we realize that we are already enveloped in love; being given the opportunity to draw closer to ourselves and to God, to become even more free, and that if we keep our feet firmly on that path – the path of the love warrior – things will be even more beautiful than we could have ever imagined. Outwardly, yes – I really do believe that God wants our external lives to be a reflection of our internal lives – but most importantly, inwardly.

As Bill Wilson says so beautifully: we are more than inwardly reorganized. Our roots grasp a new soil. Our inner selves become firmly rooted in a deep, unabiding love for ourselves and for God. An expansive love that only can grow to become bigger, fuller, and more all-encompassing the more we share it. I believe it is the kind of love we have yearned for always, sought in all the wrong places, and finally found deep down within ourselves. And when we find it there, it never dies, it never fails, and it only grows.

I want you to know that however it may look to you - however imperfectly and haltingly you may have walked at times - this is how you have faced these years. You have walked through it all with courage, dignity and grace. You have been beautifully imperfect, courageously flawed, and an exquisite example of what it looks like to be a human in this world who is doing her absolute best in the hardest of circumstances. 

On this anniversary of another year on earth, I want to wish you all the love, all the magic, and all the joy that God and the world can offer you. I want you to know that I love you and am so, so grateful for you in my life – that in your struggle and courage, in your enthusiasm for love and life, in your words and in your inner and outer movements, you teach me more than you will ever know. 

I love you and I am eternally grateful to be in your life, to be your soul sister, and to trudge this road of happy destiny by your side.

You fill my world with light.

I love you,

Ariana 

Me, too.

I have been trying to find a way to tell my story for years. Over the years it has come out in snippets. I have found words for it a bit at a time, but never had the right combination of courage and language to get it out properly – to string the pieces together, to really say what it is I want to say. Honestly, even as I sit down to write this I’m not 100% sure what the right words are, what that thread is that will bring it all together, or what it is exactly I want to say. What I do know is that over the past 24 hours, following last week’s breaking NY Times story of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual harassment and assault of countless Hollywood actresses, the internet has been flooded with women’s accounts of their own stories of sexual harassment and assault, ranging from what have come to be regarded as everyday experiences like cat-calling to the more violent and egregious acts like groping or rape. 

Today, my Facebook news feed was almost entirely filled with women posting “Me too” followed by their own stories of assault, harassment, and shame. Filled with what felt like a loud break in the silence of so many years and so much internalized shame. And while I knew on some level that this is daily reality for most of us (women), to read it again and again, one story after another, gave life and light to it in an entirely new, real, painful and powerful way. The truth is coming out of the shadows. Women are speaking up. We are no longer willing to remain convinced that our silence is necessary to confirm our worth – that our compliance is the best way to get by, or that we have to stay small and silent to be safe. We are realizing, it seems, that the power of truth telling is greater than any of us could have known. 

And so, I am going to try. I’m going to try to start putting the pieces together, to tell the story as best I can because I believe it will be my redemption. It will be painful at times, I'm sure, but nothing is more painful than silence, and I have come to believe that whatever pain and suffering we go through in this life is worth nothing if it cannot be used to help someone else. And one of the surest things I know is that I have not suffered alone, and that we are being called to use our collective voice to speak truth to power, to cast light into all the dark places of our own souls and the soul of our society so that each of us – man and woman – can step more fully into our truest selves, the selves that God made us to be, imperfect but full of love. 

As a woman, I have been objectified for years - led to believe that my most valuable asset(s) are my physical ones and that my self-worth comes from perfecting and displaying those at any cost. That was my greatest, most valuable currency to please others so I could get what I was after – love and connection -- and be seen. It was the only currency I knew, the only solution I had. 

This caused me to stay silent when I wanted to say, "No." It caused me to spend years chasing after love, acceptance, and belonging with so much desperation that I allowed myself to be led into dark, scary places physically, emotionally, and spiritually, abandoning and betraying myself again and again. It was like a whirlpool. I didn’t know its power until I stepped into it, but by that time it was too late. So, whenever I have heard talk of sexual harassment and assault I have shut down. I have carried so much shame – been convinced that I really did “ask for it,” as they say, that I was the central force behind my pain and powerlessness, not the men who paraded me around like a trophy, pushed my head down between their legs, rubbed their crotches up against me in the club, stalked me and exposed themselves to me at The Cloisters only to wave at me later like nothing happened, left bruises on my back and on the inside of my thighs, or were so much bigger than me that alone, a teenager in the back of a minivan in a remote field, saying “No” did not feel like the safest or smartest option. 

This is not to say that I had no part to play in the whole thing. Perhaps the most insidious thing about all of this is the way we women internalize it, buy into the whole system and sell ourselves out, diving head first into the whirlpool, convincing ourselves that we must stay small and pretty and silent to protect ourselves, only to come out years (or decades) later full of self-loathing and shame with no idea how to love anyone, especially ourselves. And it is not to say that the men have an easy time of it, either. Their story, their pain, is different, but I have known for almost as long as I can remember that the men and boys I have been surrounded by since high school are suffering in deep, dark, painful ways that they certainly do not have words for. As Glennon Doyle says so beautifully, we all find a way to tell our truth somewhere. We will always find a way to tell the world “I am not fine.” 

But I can say now that it was not all my fault. This world we live in teaches men to see women as their objects. Not to ask before they reach down our pants, push up against us, use our bodies as playgrounds, and speak about us – to our faces and behind our backs -- with unkind, unholy language, as though we are countries to be conquered and won, pillaged for their own personal gain. It teaches us women to take it on the chin. That “boys will be boys,” and that even in the most violent and traumatic of these events, we are likely to be told that we had it coming. I did not have it coming: not when I was 13 or 23, and I would not have had it coming if it happened today. Nobody has it coming. God created us noble, and no matter how imperfect we are, that nobility is a standard we can all be held to. No one is beneath it. Boys will not "be boys" unless we continue to hold them to standards far lower than those God intended for them. Boys will be noble children of God, and so will girls, if we raise the clarion call that love is the answer. Be brave. Open your hearts. Ask the hard questions of yourself, your friends, your parents, children, and loved ones. Have meaningful conversations about what it means to be a man or a woman in this world and about how we can help each other to do a better job of it. Speak your truth, so that in ten or fifteen or twenty years our children do not have to use the hashtags #metoo or #ihave.

The (extra)ordinary life.

“Do not ask your children to strive for extraordinary lives. Such striving seems admirable, but it is the way of foolishness. Help them instead to find the wonder and the marvel of an ordinary life. Show them the joy of tasting tomatoes, apples, and pears. Show them how to cry when pets and people die. Show them the infinite pleasure in the touch of a hand. And make the ordinary come alive for them. The extraordinary will take care of itself” - William Martin 

My mom shared this passage with my sister and me a few days ago. Later that morning, she posted it on Facebook, saying that she hopes she can internalize this kind of appreciation for the magic of ordinary life. 

I replied: “Mom, you do. You bring so much magic to the simplest things - summer mornings on the back deck, fresh berries and a hot pot of coffee, sun and wind in the trees. Your ability to create beauty in the home makes the simplest moments full of magic.”

It’s true. My mother can bring beauty and magic into just about any space with what seems like no effort at all. To whip up a meal, keep a home spotless yet warm and inviting, have food and coffee and drinks at the ready as soon as you walk in the door or wake up on a Sunday morning. Fresh berries in a beautiful bowl on the counter, stack of cereal bowls by its side. Hot coffee brewing, half and half in a pitcher beside it. The awning out on the back deck, the screen door open, and the summer breeze blowing through the house. The front door swung open wide to let in the morning light from the front garden, flowers blooming, the sunlight catching in their leaves. 

For so many years going home was fraught with something. The discomfort of growing into my own self mostly, I suppose, and the tension and worry that so often accompanied that. It was so hard to notice and appreciate all of my mother’s small beauties, to soften enough to feel my deep, unabiding love for her and all the beauty she has inspired and cultivated in my own life. I remember my dad told me once that one of the things that made him fall in love with her was how beautiful she was without even knowing it. It’s true – the beauty my mother creates in this world is done without great thought or effort, without pretense and out of love for others and love for beauty itself. She is an artist, after all, a truth that is evident in all she does. It is her deepest truth, I think – this love for others and for the beauty of the world in all its majestic ordinary-ness. I connect to that wholeheartedly today, and am so grateful to have learned and inherited that quality from her. After all, as William Martin says so beautifully above, that is the meat of this life. What is there to life if you cannot soften and open to the magic of those ordinary moments? The extraordinary are few and far between, and we can miss our whole lives waiting around for them.

I used to close up and shut down at the openness of my mother’s heart. Her deep love frightened me and I allowed myself to feel responsible for keeping her from her pain, mistakenly thinking that was my job, or that pain was something to be kept from at all. I am sure she did not do things perfectly. Perhaps there was a better way to express the brokenness of her heart, her fear and pain in the face of life’s many tribulations. But who gets these things right anyway? Isn’t that messiness part of the journey for us all? It is hard enough simply being a woman in this world, let alone a mother. To be split open by that kind of love and expected to have any idea what to do with it when you are filled with fear and pain is beyond me. I understand that now, and I can begin to understand the pain she felt when I turned my heart away from hers, shut her out and looked for love and connection in scary, dark places that she knew would only ever bring me pain. Somehow, I thought those places were safer, that there was less at stake there. Of course, I was wrong. But that is part of the messiness of this life, too. The journey begins with the hunt, the search, the setting off from home to find our place out in the world, only to come to realize the only home we have ever needed is right there in our own hearts, and that it is by opening our hearts to the world and our people that we become whole. 

This time going home was a different experience entirely. I didn’t completely realize it at the time, but looking back I feel only love and gratitude for the many moments of beauty spent together. The mornings waking by Harper’s side in my childhood bed, Harper running off to cuddle with her Nana while I crept downstairs for my morning coffee. Spending lazy days by the pool, evenings walking and eating together in town, taking my baby girl for ice cream at the local shop where I spent my youth, searching for fairies and butterflies with my sister in my parent’s yard, and adventuring around the city together through traffic and along cobblestone streets; Harper and my dad dancing to street music in Jersey City while we sat nearby waiting for our pizza to arrive. These are the ordinary moments that make for an extraordinary life. How blessed I am to have a life and heart so full with that magic.

“Right there in the thick of things we discover the love that will never die.” – Pema Chodron

Exhale.

Tonight, in yoga, I asked myself: “What is my body trying to teach me? What has it already taught me, here, in these rooms, on this mat? What have I learned from you?” I kept going with the class, reflecting on those questions as I moved from one pose to the next, my center strong, my balance holding firm, my body moving through the air as through water. That is one of my favorite feelings – my body holding itself, moving with grace and precision and control into exactly the next right place. To know when and where to hold, to let go, to move. To feel safe and in control. To know that I can trust my body to take me where I need to go. To be present with myself, taking instruction from outside and integrating it completely with my deepest inner knowing. And when that happens, I flow.

And then it comes to me “My body has taught me that when I am present with myself, when I go inside and pay attention, when I listen for and to that still small voice inside, it is there. Not only is it there, but it knows exactly what I need to do - knows how to integrate all of what I’ve heard and learned to allow me to express what I need, what is true: Lift off your hip. Lean back. Engage your shoulders. Open your chest. Press your outer foot into the mat. Pull into your center. Keep your focus. Soften. Sink. Be still.

I know what to do. When I pay attention, when I listen, when I show up day after day and remain committed to myself and my practice, the miracle happens. When I listen to that still small voice my body can do things I never thought it could do. I have shown myself time and again that I am stronger than I ever thought I could be. That I am capable of moving in ways I never thought I could move. That poses which once seemed impossible suddenly are not, and not only are they not, but they become weightless and joyful. I become free. That when I listen to that voice, that which once felt impossible – this thing that once felt so unknown to me – my body – becomes a vessel through which I can feel alive, held, and whole.

And then I think: Maybe my still small voice can do that in ALL areas of my life? Maybe, if I remain committed to trusting that voice, I can experience that same liberation off the mat as I have experienced on the mat. I know there are days when I will not get it right – those days happen in yoga, too – but in yoga it’s the practice of coming back to my mat, being willing to stay ON my mat even when I want to jump off, and always bringing myself back to myself, that serves me best. Maybe I just have to do the same thing out there: Stay committed. Keep coming back to myself. Pay attention. Practice listening for that still soft voice. Be quiet. Hear her. Take direction from her. Trust her. Have faith that she knows. 

The class ends and we are lying in savasana. It’s quiet and dark and I feel peaceful and steady. Almost out of nowhere, I hear a calm, tender voice within me say “I’m sorry,” with so much love and humility, so much grace, that it catches me off guard. But I know it is me – the deep, warrior, divine, adult me – speaking to my younger, scared, teenage self. I hear her reply with love and forgiveness, with a knowing that my apology is real and true, that her fear, hurt, anger, and disappointment have been acknowledged and heard, “It’s okay,” she says. And in that moment, I know that there is no easier softer way. There is nothing, no one, to exhale into except my own arms, that great inner resource inside me. I am what I have always been looking for. There is no one else to be my savior, no one else to be my hero or my best friend, except me. And because God loves me just as I am, just as I have always been, I can forgive myself for loving myself so imperfectly. I can exhale completely into myself. I don’t have to wait for Ian or anyone else to make me feel loved or held or safe. I am in charge of that now, and it’s not lonely. It’s liberating. To trust that if I keep paying attention, keep listening, keep coming back I will always know exactly where to put my body, my heart, and my soul. 

Listen, exhale, trust,

Tonight, in yoga, I asked myself: “What is my body trying to teach me? What has it already taught me, here, in these rooms, on this mat? What have I learned from you?” I kept going with the class, reflecting on those questions as I moved from one pose to the next, my center strong, my balance holding firm, my body moving through the air as through water. That is one of my favorite feelings – my body holding itself, moving with grace and precision and control into exactly the next right place. To know when and where to hold, to let go, to move. To feel safe and in control. To know that I can trust my body to take me where I need to go. To be present with myself, taking instruction from outside and integrating it completely with my deepest inner knowing. And when that happens, I flow.

And then it comes to me “My body has taught me that when I am present with myself, when I go inside and pay attention, when I listen for and to that still small voice inside, it is there. Not only is it there, but it knows exactly what I need to do - knows how to integrate all of what I’ve heard and learned to allow me to express what I need, what is true: Lift off your hip. Lean back. Engage your shoulders. Open your chest. Press your outer foot into the mat. Pull into your center. Keep your focus. Soften. Sink. Be still.

I know what to do. When I pay attention, when I listen, when I show up day after day and remain committed to myself and my practice, the miracle happens. When I listen to that still small voice my body can do things I never thought it could do. I have shown myself time and again that I am stronger than I ever thought I could be. That I am capable of moving in ways I never thought I could move. That poses which once seemed impossible suddenly are not, and not only are they not, but they become weightless and joyful. I become free. That when I listen to that voice, that which once felt impossible – this thing that once felt so unknown to me – my body – becomes a vessel through which I can feel alive, held, and whole. And then I think: Maybe my still small voice can do that in ALL areas of my life? Maybe, if I remain committed to trusting that voice, I can experience that same liberation off the mat as I have experienced on the mat. I know there are days when I will not get it right – those days happen in yoga, too – but in yoga it’s the practice of coming back to my mat, being willing to stay ON my mat even when I want to jump off, and always bringing myself back to myself, that serves me best. Maybe I just have to do the same thing out there: Stay committed. Keep coming back to myself. Pay attention. Practice listening for that still soft voice. Be quiet. Hear her. Take direction from her. Trust her. Have faith that she knows. 

The class ends and we are lying in savasana. It’s quiet and dark and I feel peaceful and steady. Almost out of nowhere, I hear a calm, tender voice within me say “I’m sorry,” with so much love and humility, so much grace, that it catches me off guard. But I know it is me – the deep, warrior, divine, adult me – speaking to my younger, scared, teenage self. I hear her reply with love and forgiveness, with a knowing that my apology is real and true, that her fear, hurt, anger, and disappointment have been acknowledged and heard, “It’s okay,” she says. And in that moment, I know that there is no easier softer way. There is nothing, no one, to exhale into except my own arms, that great inner resource inside me. I am what I have always been looking for. There is no one else to be my savior, no one else to be my hero or my best friend, except me. And because God loves me just as I am, just as I have always been, I can forgive myself for loving myself so imperfectly. I can exhale completely into myself. I don’t have to wait for Ian or anyone else to make me feel loved or held or safe. I am in charge of that now, and it’s not lonely. It’s liberating. To trust that if I keep paying attention, keep listening, keep coming back I will always know exactly where to put my body, my heart, and my soul.