Touching Life: Change Takes Patience

Bruce the Cat is living his best life.

I can’t say the same for his favorite human companion. It’s been a wonderful and an exhausting month but I won’t feel at home until my brain can shift its thinking from ‘I moved to Virginia’ towards ‘I live in Virginia’. My body is here but my energy is somewhere over a cornfield in Iowa and until the two can meet this sense of being unmoored will stay with me. It’s as if there’s a glitch and my spirit is biding its time somewhere in the air between California and Crozet, like a little spinning rainbow waiting for the new software update to download. But that’s what a move is like, isn’t it? The body and the spirit need space to forge their alignment. Until then, balance and equilibrium is off kilter. Just ask my Vrksasana.

Change takes time. We know that. It might be a cross country move, a bad habit we’re trying to break or a new perspective we’re trying to find. Change takes time. And if we don’t see change for what it is – an opportunity to practice patience – then the disappointment we feel when the new conditions we’re expecting don’t arrive fast enough can mess with our head. It has definitely messed with mine. This past month – in between the excitement and moments of joy – I’ve been irritable and frustrated. I’ve lost focus. I’ve had trouble sleeping. To be clear, I haven’t once questioned our decision to relocate but the firm grip I had on the vision for my life and the purpose I knew was mine has slipped away. I don’t yet know who I am in this new home. And my brain won’t be able to transition to ‘I live in Virginia’ until all the things I can’t seem to find – including me – are found.

Change has its own rhythm. It’s own schedule. 

I need to take to heart the words I write. Change is an opportunity to practice patience.

Which means I need to stop worrying about the damaged refrigerator sitting like a monolith in the middle of my kitchen and take joy in the truth that there’s a new, undamaged refrigerator in its place. By next week it the broken monolith will be gone. By next week shelves for the garage will arrive and trying to find the car won’t require navigating a maze of cardboard. After that the boxes still unpacked will be open. And after that we’ll have a few chairs for the patio and will be able to enjoy hot tea in the cool mornings as the sun rises. I’ll begin to learn how I fit in this new place, this new world.

Until then I will continue to repeat the mantra ‘Change is an opportunity to practice patience’. And the first place I will practice patience is with myself.


Touching Life: Notes from the New Homestead

On Saturday our red CRV was filled with flattened cardboard boxes, bubble wrap, assorted other papers and questionable plastics. After an eighteen mile drive we had arrived at the McIntire Recycling Center, where Ben and I met a man named John.

John knew everything about recycling and was eager to show us what from our bounty of trash we could distribute among his many large green crushing machines and what would be coming home with us, destined for landfill. He taught us, for example, about what plastics are useful to the composite deck making industry: ‘if it stretches and doesn’t stick to itself they can use it..’. So our bubble wrap and bread bags were a ‘go’ but the mountains of cling film the movers wrapped our furniture in were, unfortunately, a ‘no’

This was a very hands on, prepare to do the hard work, old school recycling experience that forced Ben and I to consider how much we consume and to reflect on the environmental cost of our move across the country. It was hot and sticky work that was eye opening and, with all that we learned, sorta fun in that ‘I can’t wait to get home to take a shower’ sorta way. 

Home for Ben, Bruce the Cat and me is now a pre-planned suburbia, the end townhome in a short row of townhomes that wiggle uphill like caterpillars enjoying a juicy nasturtium leaf toward our ever blooming ‘town center’. And if you’re old enough to remember ‘little boxes made of ticky tacky’ then you get the idea. But we love where we are. We are surrounded by mountains and wooded trails. The view from our kitchen deck looks toward a thick forest that is bound on one side by bright single family homes and a crisp white cement walkway. The difference between the two conditions – one put in order by man and the other by nature – is a constant reminder of our impact on the earth. And somehow it is teaching Ben and I to be better caretakers.

A few evenings ago, just before dusk, I was looking out from my kitchen toward the shadowed woods and saw a slim, young deer enjoying a meal of wild weeds and flowers as she made her way down the grassy verge between the sidewalk and the forest. I called Ben over and as we watched we saw the deer’s fawn – not more than a few days old, all spots and gangly legs – run to catch up to its mother. We watched as they made their way around the pond to disappear back into the thick brush. Another reminder that Ben and I are temporary stake holders. Interlopers.

When we first arrived at our new home we noticed that we had some tenants already living in a vent on the back patio. Two Eastern bluebirds had built a nest and were nurturing their newly hatched brood. A few days after our furniture arrived the bluebirds lost one of their young when it fell from the nest. The next day they lost another. But the parents continued to fly back and forth, feeding what children remained a constant stream of grubs and grasshoppers.

Until Saturday. 

I found Bruce the Cat staring through the glass door in a state of high excitement and agitation. I was happy that Bruce had something to entertain him until I realized what was happening. On the patio was a disaster of Hitchcockian proportions. Two dozen sparrows perched on our railing, harassing the bluebirds. Their last two fledglings had been pulled from the nest and were now writhing on the patio floor. At this point they had feathers but I don’t think they knew how to fly. Their suffering and distress was horrifying. In a panic, one fledgling ran and fell off the patio and down a full story to the earth below. The parents continue to fight off the attacking sparrows to protect their last remaining baby while the sparrow spectators watched in what I imagined was bloodthirsty glee.

When it became obvious that there was nothing more to see the sparrows disappeared. But the parents were still in distress and the young bird was still suffering. Ben and I did not know what to do. Put it out of its misery? Wait for the inevitable? What we decided to do was to cut a hole in the end of a shoe box to create a shelter for the baby bird. We covered the shoebox with a plastic bag and built a sort of dam in front of the box with a rolled towel in order to keep out the rain.

What happened next was astounding. Within an hour the parents were feeding their last offspring an endless meal of grubs and grasshoppers again. Ben and I feel privileged that we were able to witness this remarkable process of feeding, healing and protection for two days. 

Today the box looked undisturbed but there was no sign of the fledgling’s parents. When an hour went by and there was still no activity I ventured out and looked in the box. 

It was empty.

I need to begin this week believing that we saved that young bluebird’s life and that at dawn, with encouragement from its parents, the fledgling spread its wings and took flight. That might not be true but it’s what I need to believe.

I have one more story to share.

On Sunday afternoon Ben and I thought dinner at the Thai restaurant just a five minute walk away would be nice. Delicious food. Friendly service. A mojito that will knock your socks off. What could go wrong?

An hour earlier it had rained. As we enjoyed our drunken noodles and tum yum soup the sky was still grey but there were slices of sunshine. It was only after we paid our bill that the clouds turned black and ominous. We began our short walk home in faltering sunlight. A block later we stayed just two steps ahead of the thick plops of water that began to follow us down the sidewalk. It was less like rain and more like a slow leak in an old ceiling. We were still confident we would make it home. Besides, we had umbrellas. As if they were going beat back the onslaught about to happen.

Just past the roundabout the skies ripped open. And I mean ripped opened. We ran, we screamed, we laughed, we submitted to the inevitable. Ben’s flat cap blew from his head at the same time that our umbrella turned inside out. We ran back to catch the hat before it was lost to the deluge. By the time we reached our doorstep there was not one square inch that wasn’t soaked. It was magical.

I can’t remember having so much fun in the rain.

Over this past week I’ve touched life in ways I never have never touched life before.


Last Time Land

Last Sunday Ben turned left onto Fruitvale Avenue and I began to cry. The afternoon had turned from hot and humid to bright and breezy. We spent it enjoying cold pizza from Terun and chilled ice tea in Pat and Bob’s garden while their eight-month old Golden Doodle ran in playful circles around us. A few hours later we stood at their door not wanting to leave but knowing it was time. I wanted to hug them both – a simple gesture of love and affection – but Pat is immunocompromised and we were not willing to risk COVID. The best I could do to let these dear friends know how my life changed from knowing them was to say,

“I’m hugging you in my heart.”

Pat replied, “I know.”

The day that we move to Virginia is two weeks away. And now we can’t help but say, ‘that’s the last time we’ll grab coffee at Printer’s Cafe’ or ‘that’s the last time we’ll be up in the City’ or ‘that’s the last time we’ll sit in their garden with a glass of summer wine’. In other words, sadness and excitement have locked horns. We’re living in Last Time Land.

Last Time Land is an odd place. It’s full of sun bright joy – like the joy felt a few Tuesdays ago. That was the clear blue sky morning when a few dozen friends who have been gathering with me to practice yoga on Zoom gathered instead in Susan’s garden. It was less a ‘going away’ party and more a celebration saturated with love and appreciation for one another. I’m so happy that morning happened. It was an experience I didn’t know I needed.

It’s difficult to describe the other side of Last Time Land. It’s like a deep sigh more than anything. It’s not sad or melancholy. It’s a letting go.

Like the letting go of a good job with good people and where I learned so much. But I’m not sad to be leaving my work at the pain clinic because the space I once occupied there is now occupied by someone else. Nothing has ended, only grown.

It’s the true endings that make this side of Last Time Land difficult to navigate. I had a true ending this week. The experience that came to an end this week was one that created so much possibility for me and over the past ten years influenced so much of who I am as a human and how I walk through the world. I feel a deep sense of loss in this true ending.

A true ending creates a void and an unknowing that leaves us with an imbalance that can’t be made right until we sit in that void and grieve. But in time the void closes, grief softens, balance is regained and surety in the journey forward is found.


Neurographic Drawing

At the start of the year I set the intention of building a writing practice that would allow me to post every two weeks. I created a spread sheet of topics around these obvious themes: yoga, coaching and craft. I hoped I would have the strength and energy (and the technical prowess) to have a brief video accompany the posts I wrote about aspects of our yoga practice. I managed one video, but my posts over the past six months have been consistent. Not what I intended, but consistent. Until now.

Writing, like yoga or art, is a practice that requires our presence. We have to show up. And I find it difficult to show up for writing practice when my brain is full. And right now my brain is full. My beloved and I are three weeks away from a major life transition – our move to the ‘other coast’. Our home has become a storage unit filled with boxes and I’m obsessed with worry about how Bruce – our amazing, elderly, deaf ginger cat – will manage the flight to Virginia and how he will adjust to a new home. There are so many details that need to be attended to that there is no room in my brain for putting words down on a page.

And don’t even mention my preoccupation with…well…everything else.

And so I’ve decided to draw. My art supplies are packed and so all I have to work with are a few sharpies and a mechanical pencil. But that’s all I need for neurographic drawing. The technique, a distant cousin to SoulCollage®, begins with just a thought. A quiet thought, a few shapes and a single line. So simple and yet it doesn’t take long before my energy settles. The jumbled words and racing thoughts become quiet, and I’m lost in the shapes I’ve drawn. I’m lost in the moment, which is a nice place to rest.


Growing Freer

I’ve been thinking about balance.

At the start of the pandemic, which now feels a lifetime ago, I decided that my new found spare time offered me room to begin running again. It didn’t matter that over the previous two decades I moved no faster than a brisk walk. In college I ran to relieve the stress of studies and an unhappy marriage. After college and well into my thirties I ran because when I ran I felt strong and invincible. I wanted to feel that way again. And so I made my preparations. I researched the best shoes for my finicky feet and purchased what I could afford. I found websites and apps with titles like Running for Women, Running for Seniors and Running for Senior Women. I downloaded training schedules and created a list of routes to run and calculated the distances. It didn’t take long for me to graduate from brisk walk to shuffle to an actual jog and in those first weeks I looked forward to a healthy body, a clear mind and the lean, organized structure to my life that I craved.

And then a broken side walk came between my toe and my hopes. While my knees and my thumbs healed I considered giving up. A few months later, when I had a second hard fall, I did give up. 

Falling down was not a rare occurrence when I was a child. My mom would tease, You can trip over thin air, she’d say. When I was in sixth grade one of our teachers who was fresh out of college watched me stumble my way through a tangle of classroom chairs and then, dripping sarcasm, joked about my ‘grace’. It’s funny how we remember these things and not our moments of actual grace. To be fair, it’s true that my knees were skinned more often than not throughout my childhood. But I don’t believe it was because I was clumsy or awkward. I was too busy thinking about the next adventure to notice where I was going. My head was always a million miles ahead of my feet.

And I didn’t think too much about having skinned knees when I was a kid. I always bounced back up, brushed myself off, stuck a bandaid on my scrapes and moved on with life.

But last year the cracks in the sidewalk that sent me flying caught me by surprise. I didn’t bounce back like I did when I was a girl. Something was different. For the first time the trust I had in my body, that all would be well, was questioned. For the first time I found myself afraid of the future and the changes my body would continue to go through as I aged. 

When I stopped catastrophizing about a future that is a mystery to me and began to think clearly I realized that there was plenty I could do now to improve my strength and my balance. How I take care of my body now will inform how my body thrives in the future. I can eat more vegetables. Especially cruciferous ones. I can take Vitamin D. I can add more weight bearing exercises to my routine to keep my bones strong. I can remember that physical balance can be practiced. And then I can make sure to include standing balance poses to my yoga practice.

I don’t really have a formal game plan. It doesn’t mean that I don’t care or that I’m not working toward my healthy future. It means I’m letting go of some of the anxiety I hold about the future. Over the last few weeks I’ve realized that a balanced body goes hand-in-hand with a balanced mind. And to keep a healthy, balanced mind I need to remain present with what is rather than focused on what might be. I can smile more. I can reach out to friends more often. I can immerse myself in the things that I love like art and reading and cooking. 

And I can remember that sometimes we sing the body electric’. Sometimes we fall down. 

This Pablo Neruda poem appeared in my Facebook feed this morning along with this advice: we are growing freer…not older.

You Start Dying Slowly

You start dying slowly

if you do not travel,

if you do not read,

If you do not listen to the sounds of life,

If you do not appreciate yourself.

You start dying slowly

When you kill your self-esteem;

When you do not let others help you.

You start dying slowly

If you become a slave of your habits,

Walking everyday on the same paths…

If you do not change your routine,

If you do not wear different colors

Or you do not speak to those you don’t know.

You start dying slowly

If you avoid to feel passion

And their turbulent emotions;

Those which make your eyes glisten

And your heart beat fast.

You start dying slowly

If you do not change your life when you are not satisfied with your job, or with your love,

If you do not risk what is safe for the uncertain,

If you do not go after a dream,

If you do not allow yourself,

At least once in your lifetime,

To run away from sensible advice.”

– Pablo Neruda


What Would You Carry?

As of this week I’ve filled eighty-six small to medium sized boxes that are light enough for a sixty-three year old woman in good health to lift with relative ease. Each box is numbered, the contents roughly noted on a Google spreadsheet. In twelve weeks – give or take a few days – those boxes that I’ve filled with treasures, junk, books – oh so many books – cookware and memories will be loaded onto a truck by a couple of burly strangers and driven across the country. 

When I was young a move required nothing more than a backpack and a few boxes. I had my life pared down to bare necessities and when the weight of possession became too much I happily gave it away. But to flit about as I did in my youth required a lightness for which I no longer yearn. What I want now, more than anything, is an anchor. I want to feel tied to a place and a people. I want a home. I want family and the sense of belonging that’s alluded me since the days when I was able to pack almost everything I owned into a cardboard box. 

I feel some guilt around my selfish wants. I know there is a difference between a ‘want’ and a ‘need’. I have everything I need and for that I’m grateful. But still, I want these things. Wanting pretty things like porcelain teacups from Japan. Wanting furniture made from wood and not multi-density fiberboard. Wanting a dining room table with extendable leaves and room enough for my beloved’s sisters, his nieces and nephews and their children. Cloaked around the knowledge that it can be taken away without warning is a deep want for stability. But this morning I’m wondering if a stability is determined by your environment or how you experience your environment.

What’s interesting about the process of packing is that as our moving date approaches we’re finding it easier to let go. But I struggle with the precious things. The little things. The tchotchkes that serve no purpose but are the keepers of such potent memories. The carnival chalk ware figurines I found at a car boot sale in Letterkenny, County Donegal twenty years ago. The elf shaped, never-been-burned three inch candle that my beloved keeps at his desk and refuses to abandon. What do we do with the precious things and what would our lives be without them?

The things we choose to keep around us tell our story. They remind us of the places we’ve been, the people we’ve loved, the dreams we’ve lost and the dreams that came true. 

But if I had to chose between these things and my life I would abandon everything without question in order to survive. What must it be like, do you think, to be forced to do that with a moment’s notice? What must it be like to wake up to the sound of explosions and to realize that everything you know, everything you assume will always be there – the school, the hospital, the corner market – is about to be destroyed?

For five weeks we’ve watched missiles rain down on homes that look like the homes we live in and on cities that look like the cities we love. Two weeks ago we saw a mother with her two children, two family dogs and the family friend leading them to safety. One moment they were alive and when the dust cleared they were dead. What did they carry with them? If we opened Tetiana’s rolling suitcase what would we find? What precious toy did her daughter Alise find room for in her backpack? What book was so important to Mykyta that he would choose to carry it with him on their futile attempt to escape a savage war?

What would you bring? What book would you carry?


The Little Things

I’ve begun packing. Our new life on the East coast is still eight months away but I’ve begun to bundle in bubble wrap those things I don’t use but don’t want to lose. It would be far easier to send these silly tchotchkes to Goodwill – after all, they’re just ‘things’ – but I can’t seem to find the resolve. The attachment I have to them is visceral and giving them away at this point is like giving a part of myself away. I did not feel this way when I was younger, when I moved across an ocean and back again. Then, I gave most of what I had away to friends with ease. At the time it was like a cleansing but I realize now that I knew so very little about myself. I had no connection to my own history and thus no connection to the things I kept around me.

But now I do. And it’s these things I’ve packed away – my grandmother’s vase from Germany, the desktop magnifying glass my grandfather used to examine the coins he collected, the wooden puzzle boxes with inlaid images of Mount Fuji my sister and I were given as children, the Bible my mother carried with her through three marriages –  these things connect me to my past and to the blood flowing through my veins. They tell the story of who I am and how I came to be. 

These stories are important. And yet, if a calamity occurred and everything was lost the energetic imprint of these things I hold in my hand would still be held in my heart. 

With the image still fresh of Afghan families huddled by the perimeter walls of the Kabul airport desperate to board a flight that will take them to an unknown destination far away from where they are, and as Haitians emerge newly baptized by the waters of the Rio Grande to gather under a bridge in the sweltering heat of our southern border I am more than aware that the circumstances of my life are sweet blessings.

With that in mind, it’s healthier for me to see the task of deciding what to bring and what to leave behind as a joy rather than a burden. And in the process I can refine the vision I have of the life I want to live with my beloved human and beloved feline in rural Virginia. I can refine the vision of how I want to walk through a world that is so beautiful and fragile.


Knowing What is Unknowable (and trying to sleep)

Insomnia is like the buzz of a fluorescent lightbulb about to burn out. It’s the annoying clack of your office mate’s pencil against their desk. The cackle of canned laughter coming through the floorboards from your downstairs neighbor’s television. Insomnia is silence broken by the gristled smack of someone chewing with their mouth open.

I’m irritatingly sensitive to sound. And I hate insomnia.

When sound breaks through the cocoon of quiet I need to have wrapped around me in order to work, it’s easily remedied by distraction. Moving to another room. Taking a break. Walking outside. Eating. 

They say that when insomnia steals what you hope will be a deep, restorative sleep the remedy is similar. Distract yourself from the fact that you are unable to sleep with a good book or a warm drink or anything that doesn’t involve too much mental energy or screens.

So when insomnia sat on the edge of the bed in our hotel room in Charlottesville last month and incessantly tapped its pointy little finger on the crown of my head I did what any intelligent human being wide awake for no reason at 3AM would do. None of the above.

Instead, I tossed. I turned. I yearned for sleep and each time my eyes closed and I thought ‘at last’ a new stream of consciousness would flood my brain. It was like a movie of my life that had been cut and pasted out of sequence and it made no sense. My thoughts bounced from the red dress I wore for my first grade school photo to lesson plans I wanted to write for my yoga classes. My brain played pin ball with whether or not the new refrigerator would fit in the kitchen to how we would move the family furniture languishing in a Pennsylvania storage locker. Did I really have to keep the cookie jar from my childhood? My grandfather’s turquoise Jim Beam bottle in the shape of a star created to celebrate my birth place become our 49th state? 

All the while, weaving its way through these warped concerns like a repeating weft with a broken shuttle was a singular truth. My insomnia was not about how to move furniture from one state to the other. It wasn’t about my red dress or cookie jars or Jim Beam bottles. It was about trying to find order in the unknown. Which seems to me to be an impossible quest.

Knowing that, however, left me reconsidering the question ‘are we making the right decision?’. I realize now there is no answer. The answer is unknowable. So I release fear and move forward with love and trust. And I sleep really, really well.


Leaving Home: A Climate Migrant’s Story

When I left California the first time, it seemed like a lot of folks had a similar idea. Around the time I took flight for Ireland, Dana and Anya left for Grand Rapids and Nancy headed to Santa Fe. There were others, too, who left. Friends on the periphery of my life headed to Oregon and my the friend who adopted my cat Bob moved to Detroit.

In the late 1990’s, if you weren’t in the tech industry, it felt like life was waiting for you someplace else. So we moved. 

A decade later I came back to the place that felt like home. I guess the Universe knew that the Bay Area had more lessons to teach me. Some of those lessons devastated me. Others filled me with hope and motivated me to not only do better but to be better. To be more kind. More patient. More trusting. 

I purchased my first home through Palo Alto’s BMR program during my second time around in the Bay Area. And I fell into the kind of love that is more than a fleeting tickle in the heart.

My beloved B (henceforth known as ‘BB’) and I first tossed around the idea of leaving California long before COVID changed the way we live. But when last summer served us a shutdown, raging firestorms, intense heat and The Day the World Turned Orange we knew it was time to flesh out what it would look like to leave. What it would mean.

So we created a spread sheet that ranked our potential destinations according to the criteria that was most important to us. We wanted to be closer to family but we also needed affordability, diversity, culture, tolerable winters and, while BB could continue to work remotely, I needed opportunities to continue on my path as a yoga therapist and coach. I also needed room to grow back into the artist side of me I abandoned when I left California the first time. Asheville was too expensive and Chapel Hill too far from family. We didn’t relish the idea of a Pittsburgh winter and potential livelihood for me was sketchy in Richmond. 

But Charlottesville, Virginia? Charlottesville ticked enough of the boxes to warrant an exploratory visit.  By the end of our seven day visit last May, we knew where we wanted to live.

It isn’t Charlottesville. It’s a little town (to be truthful it isn’t a town, it’s a place and yes, there’s a difference) outside of Charlottesville called Crozet. Crozet is named after Colonel Claudius Crozet, the French engineer who built the Blue Ridge Tunnel. The community we’re moving to is near enough Charlottesville to take advantage of all it has to offer but far enough away from city lights so that we can see the stars at night. Maybe even the occasional shooting star.

But we won’t move into our new home until next June. Which gives me just enough time to circle ‘round back about a million times to the question, “Are we making the right decision?”


Guided Autobiography

9F61C78F-98F4-4952-B808-307B50D191E1_1_201_aThe global pandemic is forcing social isolation but technology can bring us together – at least electronically. When we come together with the intention of actively listening to the stories that have shaped our lives – even if it’s through Zoom – our hearts break open. We connect on a level that isn’t available in our day to day interactions. 

This June I’m offering a four-week Guided Autobiography experience. The date will be confirmed when I have the minimum number of participants. If you’re interested, continue reading then reach out via email (mimmpatterson@gmail.com) and I’ll send further details.

What is Guided Autobiography?

Guided Autobiography, a method developed by James E. Birren, is a semi-structured process of life review – an opportunity to reflect on our life story and to share it with others. Reflecting on our life through story supports our health and wellness and offers many emotional and mental benefits. Guided Autobiography creates the space for that reflection. It shines a warm light on memories and helps us to process ‘what came before’. It brings meaning to our lives and helps us to better understand our past and our present. Guided Autobiography shifts perspective.

Our introductory course will be just four weeks, with each weekly session ninety minutes long. We will work through four themes (the first being introduced via email) and each week share with others a two-page reflection written on that theme. We will ‘prime’ each theme with a series of sensitizing questions that are designed to assist in the recollection of memories related to the theme. The sensitizing questions encourage us to look at aspects of our histories that have been overlooked.

This is not a traditional writing class. We won’t be offering critiques to one another. Instead, we’ll be exploring self-awareness and human development. We’ll be sharing personal experiences. For that reason participants must agree to attend all sessions, to complete all writing assignments and to honor confidentiality – what is shared in Guided Autobiography stays in Guided Autobiography. We will create a supportive environment that accepts individual differences and will listen actively while others are sharing. 

I’ve been wanting to become a Guided Autobiography facilitator since I first stumbled upon the process while falling down an internet rabbit hole (the same way I discovered SoulCollage®). The pandemic and shelter-in-place order offered space for that to happen. I’m excited to now be able to share the process with others. 

Join me for this four-week, donation based course. Class size is limited to six.