I’ve heard the word "gentle" a lot lately and I've been reflecting on gentleness as a useful approach to life, especially for us sensitive, creative, and/or neurodivergent folks because we often experience both our inner life and the world around us with great intensity. This can be a beautiful thing leading to extraordinary depth of feeling, sensory pleasure, and creativity. The flip side is that it can more easily lead to sensory and emotional overwhelm and burnout. So there's this fine line, a precarious dance between the gift and the shadow of intensity.
We all know the myth of Icarus who, out of hubris, failed to master this dance when he flew too close to the sun. But what if Icarus had GENTLY approached the sun, allowing him to still enjoy its warmth but also to feel the very first drop of melting wax, alerting him to pull back a bit? Could he have saved himself with a gentle approach? Could we?
As I've been reflecting on gentle, I've noticed it being modeled in nature - the breezes, delicate flowers, easily-gliding birds... They've reminded me what going gently looks like.
I've started playing with the concept in my own life and noticing that new options and opportunities seem to open up for me when I approach a situation from gentleness. If I'm feeling overwhelmed with a project, approaching it gently becomes taking a baby step that no longer feels overwhelming but still keeps me moving in the right direction.
I think almost any situation could benefit from an infusion of gentleness. Is there anything that you can do more gently this week? Can you approach your day with more gentleness? The next hour, creative project, meeting with your boss/client, call with your friend/partner/relative? If you do this, let me know how it goes:)
I am incredibly inspired by Day Schildkret's impermanent earth art, Morning Altars. This morning, he posted the following on his Morning Altars' Instagram page:
"Today I'm calling for a GLOBAL ALTAR MOB!
What that means is:
1. Go outside: Take that anxiety and worry to the trees. Go wander and forage.
2. Make an altar: Do it on the streets, the sidewalks, the forests, beaches and esp in front of places of power!
3. Channel your heart and mind: Place your hopes, fears, dreams, grief, exhaustion, prayers and pleas in the altar.
4. Share it: Post on social media to warm our hearts, give us courage and gather us in. Make sure you hashtag it: #morningaltars #victoryaltars #vote
Let's make altars pop up everywhere today! Nature and art as activism, my friends!"
This image is the election day victory/democracy altar that I created in response to Day's call - it was such a centering, calming, and literally-grounding exercise to take part in on an anxiety-provoking day. I was thankful for the suggestion and opportunity to direct my energy into this process and to spend time in nature and create beauty rather than stew in anxiety. I've been following Morning Altars for a few years and have wanted to make an earth altar like this for a long time and had just never taken the time to do it. This was my first time and certainly not my last! The truth is, we don't need the stress of an election to inspire this kind of creative meditation -- I commit to creating more earth altars and sharing them here, join me if you feel inspired to as well.
Nervous system regulation tool # 3: Earplugs. The nuances of being a neurodivergent, highly sensitive person can show up differently for different people and for me it includes a sensitivity to sound.
Earplugs have played a crucial role in managing my auditory sensitivity and regulating my nervous system. I first stumbled across them in college and found that when I wore them to study, even in the fairly quiet library, I could concentrate a million times better because I didn’t have to put any energy into filtering out the noises around me.
Fast forward several years, I decided to experiment with earplugs in a variety of settings beyond the normal places like live music shows where my friends were wearing them too. I put some in to help me focus on my shopping list when I was heading into a noisy, crowded Trader Joe’s during rush hour, or Costco at any time of day(!), or when I was walking around Lake Merritt in Oakland on a busy, Sunday afternoon. They would drown out the background noise and allow me to fully focus on the task at hand or the visual beauty surrounding me.
Now, they are a staple in my day-to-day life and I couldn’t imagine living life without them. I use neutral-colored plugs with lower decibel coverage when I’m at a store so they aren’t noticeable and I can still hear if someone needs to squeeze by me. When I’m concentrating on a project at a cafe, library, or at home, I use the ones that have a higher decibel coverage.
Do you have a sensitivity to sound? Do you use earplugs, ear defenders, or noise canceling headphones in your daily life? Or any other tools for auditory sensitivity?
Unsurprisingly, my nervous system regulation practice # 2 is: MAKE SOME ART!
It doesn’t matter what it is — it could be coloring in a coloring book, pasting a collage, doodling in a notepad, painting on a canvas, or messing with some clay. We can approach the act of creation as an active meditation and easily access a flow state, regulating our entire system.
I’ve been working more on my houseplant series and truly nothing calms me and grounds me in the present moment quite like sitting down and focusing on pasting these little torn pieces of paper onto the canvas. Everything else drops away and I am immersed in flow... calmed, grounded, and regulated.
I invite you to try making something this week if it’s been a while. Don't focus on the outcome or finished product - no need for your creation to look good or to be shared with another single soul -- just create as a form of meditation and let the rest go.
With my sensory sensitivities and "overexcitabilities," regulating my nervous system has been an ongoing practice and place of deep learning and experimentation for me. While at times, these sensitivities and intensities can inspire an almost magical experience of life and can be great for artists and the creative process, they can also make certain aspects of life a lot more challenging to navigate.
I wanted to share some the practices, tools, and resources that are most useful for me in this long learning curve of nervous system regulation in case they are useful for you as well if you're exploring your own sensitivities and intensities or are simply craving more peacefulness and balance.
It may be obvious from my posts that one of the most foundational practices for me is moving my body in the beauty of nature. Nature's beauty: the sun, the air, the particular shade of green grass or tree leaves - speaks to my senses and grounds me in that which is so much bigger than my small self.
Truly one of the fastest and easiest ways to reset / bring our systems into balance is diving into nature. There has been research study after research study proving that spending time in "green space" has vast physical/mental/emotional health benefits. If we have access to this resource, it behooves us to put it to good use. Let this be a reminder (for both you and me!) to get out into it if it's been a while.
This year I relocated to Southern California after 17 years of living in the San Francisco Bay Area. Although this is not a super significant distance geographically, this was a big emotional shift for me in terms of closing out a chapter of my life and beginning a new one. I'd had many friends move away from the Bay Area in the past few years so I knew that in this digital age, although the relationships certainly change, technology allows for continued connection. But it's difficult to connect from afar with the physical spaces that contain our memories. So, I chose to spend time during my final months in the Bay Area making pilgrimages to, and taking photos of, significant places from my 17 years there.
I visited and documented the spaces that held the energy of my most meaningful memories, places that contained a deep energetic imprint of my presence and vice versa -- where I walked in and out of doors, or up and down stairs, or ate, or prayed, or danced, or made love, or dreamt, or worked, or learned, or healed, or laughed, or created over and over again, sometimes for years and years on end. This became an intentional way for me to honor this chapter of my life.
Honoring and marking the passage of time and the endings and beginnings of life chapters has become more important to me as I've gotten older and especially as a woman who has not married and who has consciously chosen not to birth children -- two significant milestones that often mark life stages for us humans. For all of us, and specifically for those of us without these particular milestones and accompanying journeys, I think it is important to intentionally track, record, and celebrate our transitions.
It was an interesting practice to sit down and write a list of the places I wanted to visit - to notice which ones actually made it onto the list and which didn't due to their insignificance or due to memories that felt too negative to revisit. This also became a values clarification exercise for me - making me glaringly aware of what I have consciously or unconsciously valued most and how I spent my time and energy throughout these years of my life. Themes emerged from the list -- it became a list of what nourished me... physically, spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. If you view the images and read my stories to get a glimpse into this chapter of my life, I encourage you to think about what a similar project would look like for you.
17th Street, Oakland
This beautiful 1920s building is in downtown Oakland, one block away from Lake Merritt. I lived in one of the large studio apartments hidden behind the trees on the left-hand side for 11 years of my life. The kitchen and bathroom displayed original art deco tilework and the space had lovely high ceilings and tall windows that framed these seasonally-changing trees, keeping me in-tune with the cycles of nature. Every morning, I would feel gleefully thankful for the beauty and peacefulness of the space - often with the thought that I was the luckiest person in the world to live in this apartment. While it was simply a studio, it was a special place and its beauty was never lost on me or taken for granted.
Latham Square Building, 16th Street & Telegraph Avenue, Oakland
One of the first things I did when I moved to the Bay Area was train and serve as a volunteer counselor for a nonjudgmental, after-abortion talkline called Exhale. This organization was not politically or religiously affiliated but rather, described its approach as "pro-voice" and client-centered. On the talkline, we learned to put aside our own beliefs and opinions to meet callers exactly where they were at when they called us wanting to talk about their experiences with abortion. This organization was - and still is - doing ground-breaking, cutting-edge work -- carving out a space for real, complex human experiences, stories, and support in the midst of a super-charged, over-simplified, and divided political climate. Although it's no longer in this building, the Exhale office was housed here for the many years (2002 - 2008) during which I was involved as a counselor, community educator, board member, and finally, staff member. I met and worked alongside all kinds of amazing, brilliant, compassionate, and empathic women in this office and am forever grateful for the counseling skills, lifelong friendships, and organizational and professional development experiences I had the honor of cultivating here.
Oakland Center for Spiritual Living, Clarewood Drive, Oakland
For many years, I attended weekly services at the Oakland Center for Spiritual Living, a beautiful sanctuary nestled in the Oakland Hills. During this time, Rev. Joan Steadman was the minister, she was a humble, honest, inspiring leader. Oakland CSL is a non-denominational spiritual center and as a queer, Jewish woman, I felt welcomed and accepted here. It was guaranteed that if I went to services, I would walk out feeling uplifted and with fascinating, philosophical food for thought to chew on and digest that week.
Oakland Acupuncture Project, Laurel Avenue, Oakland
Aside from the (mostly) Kaiser doctors I saw a couple times per year, my primary, continuous healthcare providers over the past decade were the many talented "acu-punks" (practitioners) at Oakland Acupuncture Project. OAP is comprised of two clinics that offer community acupuncture, a movement aimed at creating access to Chinese Medicine by removing the barrier of cost from healing. Community acupuncture is affordable (usually $15-$50/session) acupuncture offered in a group setting - enabling folks to access this healing modality together in community and with greater frequency than what otherwise might be cost-prohibitive. They helped me heal through ailments from allergies to menstrual cramps and to consistently maintain my well-being. OAP is a member of an international cooperative called People's Organization of Community Acupuncture (POCA). If you're interested in this movement, you can become a member and/or search for community acupuncture clinics near you on their website.
Mountain View Cemetery, Piedmont Avenue, Oakland
My favorite place to walk, sit, or contemplate in Oakland is Mountain View Cemetery. Mountain View is a stunning 226 acres of green rolling hills and awe-inspiring views at the end of Piedmont Avenue. I've spent truly countless hours indulging in its beauty, listening to podcasts, sitting in sweet silence, writing in journals, talking with friends, contemplating the lives of those buried here, and reaching my 10,000 steps here:)
This is a photo of the mausoleum under the moon. The beautiful and aptly-placed carving above the doors is of the three Fates, the Greek goddesses or weavers of Destiny: Clotho ("the spinner" of the thread of life), Lachesis ("the allotter" who measures the thread and determines Destiny), and Atropos ("the unturnable" who cuts the thread and determines death). In Western society, we often shy away from looking at or discussing our inevitable fate of death, so it can be a useful practice to intentionally engage with it and the beauty of Mountain View is helpful for this process.
Anytime Fitness, Bay Farm Island, Alameda
This little gym in Alameda was my saving grace throughout the years. Located fairly close to where I lived in Oakland, it's a cute and quiet gym that's open 24/7 and located next to a grocery store that's open until midnight. I am a fairly extreme night owl and was fortunate to find jobs that fit my natural sleep and energy rhythms. For a few years I worked at a mental healthcare clinic for youth in the Presidio in San Francisco, usually ending my work day around 9 or 9:30pm. Anytime Fitness gave me a safe place to go exercise after my commute back home to the East Bay with time to spare to do my grocery shopping before midnight without any crowds or lines (win-win:). This gym was also a place of deep healing for me during times of stress or challenges - it's truly amazing what endorphins can do for our state-of-mind. Despite exercise often being the last thing I want to do when I'm down or stressed, it's always been incredibly well worth the effort for me.
New College of California, Valencia Street, San Francisco
I spent a year in a Feminist Clinical Psychology graduate program and later switched to and graduated from a master's program in Women's Spirituality here at New College of California. This was a small liberal arts school founded in 1971 whose mission was, "Education for a Just, Sacred, and Sustainable World." This building on Valencia Street in San Francisco's Mission District (which now houses retail shops) was my educational home for three years. I fell in love with the people who were drawn to teach and learn in an institution that valued a just, sacred, and sustainable world.
I learned an innumerable amount here including the clinical practice of community mental health, how to set and facilitate sacred space, the joy of sitting in circle, the power of heuristic research and Organic Inquiry (a methodology of research as a sacred endeavor), the wisdom and often-suppressed history of the Divine Feminine, the sacredness of the menstrual cycle and its connection with the moon, the creation of art as a spiritual practice, the importance of telling our stories, and so much more.
I had the opportunity to travel with this program to India to study South Indian Arts and Culture. My thesis was on healing through the arts and creative expression and I had the chance to create an art exhibit to go along with my written thesis. I chose to create four large altars of my artwork and found/recycled materials for a show I titled, Altared: A Journey to Wholeness - that was exhibited here in the community exhibition space. I was particularly excited when I had the opportunity to hear the phenomenal author, Sandra Cisneros, read from her work in this space with my altars as the backdrop :) I left this school with lifelong mentors and friends and a newfound connection to my own spirituality and creativity.
Taqueria Cancun, Mission Street, San Francisco
There were many restaurants to choose from for this list, but this hole-in-the-wall taqueria was one of my trusty, go-to staples for the entirety of my time in the Bay Area. It was *the* late-night spot for veggie burritos when I lived in SF and in Oakland. I first started coming here in my early twenties after nights out dancing with my first roommates in San Francisco. Later, I would get burritos here with my fellow outreach worker after doing street outreach through the Women's Community Clinic (passing out hygiene and safer sex and drug supplies to unhoused and marginally-housed women in the Mission District). I would then come here after weekend-long graduate school classes in the Mission and years later, with my partner who lived a block away from here for five years of our relationship. It was reliably welcoming with its colorful papel picados, yummy green hot sauce, and long, community tables.
Prospect Avenue, San Francisco
Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley & Catalina Avenue, Albany
Valencia Street, San Francisco
These are the offices of the amazing therapists I had the chance to work with in the Bay Area. My first therapy experience in San Francisco was being in a Radical Therapy problem-solving group run out of a home office space in Bernal Heights. This was a great group of women and a powerful approach - you can read more about it here.
The second and third shots are the former office spaces (first one was above the North Berkeley Post Office and the second was a space rented in a church off of Solano Avenue) of the therapist I worked with for over a decade who expertly held space for me and guided me through intense growing pains and evolution. She introduced me to: the brilliant practices of Nonviolent Communication and EMDR (Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) among many other healing modalities and she continually and gracefully pointed me back to my own inner wisdom and intuition.
The fourth image is the office of a wonderful Gestalt and Jungian-based couple's therapist who I saw with one of my partners. This office is on Valencia Street in San Francisco, above the Scarlet Sage, a lovely herb shop that was hard not to wander into after therapy sessions. Among many other things, she taught us Dan Siegel's concept of the Window of Tolerance, and Stan Tatkin's concept of the couple bubble.
Lake Merritt, Oakland
Having lived a block away from this beautiful gem of Oakland for 11 years (and near it for several more,) I don't think I could calculate how many times I have walked the 3.4 miles around its perimeter or simply sat outside on its shore. An evening walk under its strands of glowing white lights always felt a bit magical. When I first moved to Oakland, I would dorkily wear a big fanny pack to walk around the lake, knowing that I would hardly run into any people there and certainly no one I knew... in recent years, it has become a true community hub (and thankfully, fanny packs came back into style so it all worked out ;) The path around - and the feeling of being near - this small body of water is etched on my insides... it's a little piece of home to me and I suspect this will remain the case for the rest of my days.
I took at least a dozen more photos than what I've included here - photos of other homes I lived in or shared with partners in San Francisco and Oakland, vegan restaurants I frequented such as Herbivore in SF and Berkeley, workplaces throughout the Bay Area, and other walking and hiking spots such as the Alameda shoreline, but the places featured here rose to the top as a priority for me to share. And in this process, I noticed what nourished me most throughout these years: beauty and nature; healing and growth; connection with loved ones; creative expression; being in service to others; continuous education and learning, and spiritual engagement. I'm grateful for the opportunity to have lived some of my most formative and meaningful years in these beautiful spaces and to close out this chapter of my life by reflecting, honoring, and appreciating them.
Last winter, I was going through an emotional grieving process due to the recent ending of a long-term relationship and I worked on a creative project to help me through it. The finished project (a video) ultimately became too vulnerable-feeling for me to share publicly but here are some frames to give you a sense of it.
In late fall and winter, I was in the height of my grief. My days and nights were filled with tears and a dizzying cycle through the five stages of grief - denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. In addition to the assistance of my healers and loved ones, I knew I needed to create art in order to constructively work through all of these emotions and so I began by writing a poem to capture what this process and season was like for me. I had had this strong metaphoric imagery coming to me that I had closed the door to the past and was now just sitting at this door processing all of these big feelings. I titled the poem, Winter at the Door.
The imagery was so strong, I wanted to expand beyond the poem. I scouted out a good door to use and enlisted a friend and creative collaborator (huge thanks to Candace Roberts) to shoot photos of me acting out the poem in front of the door. With hundreds of photos to sort through, I set out to learn the intricacies of iMovie and then spent hours upon hours editing these photos into a stop-motion video set to an audio track of me reading the poem. This was a labor of love and grief. When waves of grief arose within me, I welcomed them and used them as fuel to keep going on this project.
Acting out the poem at the door and having this witnessed was a powerful, embodied experience and then watching it come to life on the screen gave me an important bird's eye perspective on all I had been working through emotionally. A part of the poem addressed my propensity for rumination and I chose to show this via a flashback montage of sweet and loving photos from this several-year-long relationship. This part was both difficult and beautiful to work on -- although it was painful to sift through these photos, it felt like a way to deeply honor this love while at the same time, call myself out on my patterns and the ways in which I still needed to grow and heal.
Every piece of this project was a salve for me: it kept me focused and moving forward through challenging days, it gave me a chance to express and be witnessed in all aspects of this grief, and it allowed me to honor this painful story of love, learning, and loss. I wanted to share the process of this project even though I'm not sharing the video itself because it is a perfect example of the power of creative expression as a tool for growth and healing. I am beyond grateful to have had this tool available to me during this time.
I’m honestly pretty bad at plain old meditation. I prefer some form of active, creative meditation which has often taken the form of coloring in coloring books. I was recently coloring and was reminded of what a powerful form of meditation it is. I felt so inspired by it, I wanted to shout it from the rooftops and share it with everyone I knew. So, I decided I would color a flower mandala and post it here — no matter how it turned out — as a way to inspire others. Once I committed to posting it “no matter how it turned out,” I obviously wanted it to look pretty fabulous — and then of course, all of the things went wrong…
As I was coloring, a few of the colors bled into one another; the paper started pilling; one marker ran out of ink halfway through and I had to improvise with a similar color; I didn’t end up liking some of the colors I chose once I saw them on the paper; and I kept accidentally coloring outside of the lines! As I experienced each of these mishaps, I noticed a part of me that was very frustrated, worried if this flower would be inspiring and lovely enough to share, and wanted to throw in the towel and start a new one altogether. But every time, a smaller, softer voice chimed in and reminded me that regardless of the end result, I was meditating - a practice of simply staying in the present moment and continuing to color. I chose to listen to this softer voice over and over again until I finished the flower.
Once it was complete, and having persevered through my various mistakes and doubts, I decided to do a bit of active imagination (Jungian dialogue) with the flower and ask it if it had anything to tell me. It said: “Despite my imperfections, I am boldly blossoming.” I loved this so much; it was exactly what I needed to hear - and don’t we all need this reminder? This year, I’m committed to sharing with you more about my imperfect creations, attempts at meditation practice, and messy creative process so I can boldly blossom as a creative human being. What about you? Is there anything you’re committed to persevering through - despite any imperfections - and boldly blossoming in 2019?