Happiness Through the Nose

It is not the end of the physical body that should worry us. Rather, our concern must be to live while we’re alive – to release our inner selves from the spiritual death that comes with living behind a facade designed to conform to external definitions of who and what we are. –Elizabeth Kubler-Ross

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Never would I have thought a puncture wound in my nostril could make me feel so good or inspire further life reflection. It all started during summer. My daughter decided to pierce her nose after a long process of considering the pros and cons of a facial piercing, including how it might affect her job; what meaning it had for her; and whether she might lose interest in it or not. She also factored in an upcoming surgery to remove an ovarian cyst—an office nurse advised the piercing itself isn’t a problem, but the jewelry would need to be removed prior should the “worst case scenario” of resuscitation become necessary. What with this new concern and its accompanying horrifying images of my daughter in distress in an operating room filling my mind, the worries I’d had about a nose infection making me hesitant to agree with the piercing were no longer so terribly looming. If you’re going to be responsible and care for it, I told her, you have my blessing.

The decision to pierce finalized, we journeyed one summer night to a reputable (always research the safety of the establishment that will be responsible for inserting sharp objects into any area of your body) tattoo and piercing shop, my daughter’s stepsister from her father’s relationship along for moral support. The woman who walked us to the room and arranged the necessary tools for the piercing ritual to commence was professional and precise, and I admired the way my daughter not only didn’t blink, but continued to sit with her elegant posture and a smile while a three inch needle popped through and then dangled briefly from her nose. The jewelry inserted, a quick dab with a napkin to remove a small droplet of blood, and we were on our way back out the door. The tiny diamond looked lovely.

My daughter had asked me to pierce my nose with her as a symbol of our bond; it would be a shared physical trait, like our body types and smiles. I’ll think about it, I had said. Nose piercings are a form of fashion/cultural/artistic expression I have long appreciated. Dainty, ornamental, and not too dissimilar to a freckle or a mole, they appear feminine and inoffensive twinkling from the face. In many belief systems throughout Indian culture, both Hindu and non-Hindu, the nose piercing is a common symbol related to marriage, in reference to the goddess of marriage, Parvati. It is worn to show a young woman is ready for marriage or worn to show a woman is married. The piercing is also considered health-related in various regions of India: piercing the nostril on a specific area is thought to alleviate pain during menstruation and childbirth according to traditions of Ayurvedic medicine. The pierced nose continues to be seen as a mark of beauty in Indian, Nepali, and African regions. Nose piercing was also widely practiced throughout Aborigine Australian, Mayan, Aztec, and New Guinea tribes, a symbol of beauty, social status and, in the males with pierced nostrils or septums, virility.

As humans, we’re into symbols. We are interested in explaining and understanding ourselves and our world in as many ways as possible, and symbols become a way to do this while offering the added advantage of unifying ourselves with others.

Although I like the nose piercing fundamentally for its artistic flair, I also began to think of it as a personal symbol. As someone who has a fair amount of anxiety related to health, due to anxiety related to the fairly common human fear of mortality, and an increasing avoidance of anything that might cause pain or illness, I decided facing the needle was a way to open myself up to a selected experience of pain to work through—a small situation of allowing a painful moment and then attending to the healing process afterwards. It also turned into a symbol of growth through taking on new situations in life. Almost forty-years-old and aware of how many people greet this middle age phase with hesitancy and even depression, I made a decision on my recent thirty-ninth birthday that each birthday should be acknowledged with a plan for trying something new, no matter how small or complex that something is. When forty is here, so long as I am fortunate enough to see it, I want to see it as arriving at a transformative place in life where I’m a little older and have opportunity to turn this newest phase into whatever important adventure I want it to be.

Instead of dwelling on the aging process that inevitably takes us down at some point the further we go in it, I want to gather up my years of collected experiences and wisdom, mistakes and pains, and shape a new creation out of it all.

A nose piercing has turned out to be a simple and perfect way to start. With my husband and my daughter, and her stepsister along again four months later for moral support, I sat in the same chair at the same tattoo and piercing shop as my daughter (and her stepsister, who had pierced her nose within a week of our first visit), and greeted the same woman with her familiar latex gloves and three inch needles. Ready I was to let her push one of those needles through the soft tissues of my left nostril. My daughter held out her hand for me to hold and encouragingly reminded me, “You’ve given birth before!” True, but the medical staff had to sedate me during the birthing process when I started panicking due to the labor slowing down and a nurse informing me that I might need C-section. “I just want to go home, okay?” I had replied, while trying to sit up and leave the hospital bed. It wasn’t the pain I was reacting against, but the fear of the unknown. Pain I can deal with; uncertainty, I’m sometimes sensitive to that.

“You can close your eyes,” my piercing mistress said. “Close your eyes, Mom,” my daughter ordered, her usual big, free, life-loving (and somewhat roguish) smile on her face. I closed my eyes. The needle went through. It felt the way one would imagine a needle going in one side and out the other of a bodily region might: it hurt. My eyes watered and the delicate metal settling into my flesh felt as unnatural as it is. It also felt good. With my eyes open, I smiled. I felt an encouraging sense of accomplishment and was pleased that I hadn’t walked away from this experience. The strange excitement for seeing me pierced that my daughter and her stepsister had, along with the funny look of curiosity mixed with a mild alarm from my husband as the needle was poised made the experience all the more worthwhile.

Each day I clean the diamond three times with antibacterial soap, as instructed. I check for signs of infection. So far, it’s healing well. My anxiety attacks from observing the minor and expected redness have diminished along with the redness of newly punctured skin. Not only do I like how the jewelry sparkles and satisfies my tastes for artistry, I also smile to think of having tried something new that has some meaning in my life, in my personal collection of symbols and knowledge. By the time I’m forty, such a short time from now, I plan to welcome in the new phase of aging by putting to use my years of meditation and yoga practice with a teaching certificate for meditation instruction. I will also be midway through a clinical counseling degree for licensure; moving closer to a new way to connect with and support the healing of others, and learn about healing and living from others in the process. I hope to have gone back to the Capoeira classes I started four years ago but left for other obligations in my days. Maybe I’ll be close to giving birth again, for only the second time in my life—both a fear and a dream of mine. I plan, also, to blow out forty candles and make an oath to not let age and aging be the determining factors of how I feel physically or emotionally.

I feel no different saying I’m thirty-nine than I did ten years ago saying I was twenty-nine. Back then I didn’t believe that aging means depression and losing the ability to conquer new things; why start now?

New Year Renewal, Reflection, and Accessing the Good

New Year’s is thought of as a time of renewal. To renew is to “recommence” or to “come back to or start again” or to “resume (an activity) after an interruption.” What is it that stops at December 31st and resumes on January 1st? There’s really no blank space between minutes, no gap between night and day, no stopping of one moment flowing into all the others. There’s no stopping, also, of the energy of our cells and thoughts, the energy flow of all life: motion and dreams perpetual.

Reflection, though, is the thoughtful interruption of our linear thinking, or even our hyperactive, spastic, circular and boomerang and every-which-way thoughts. We pause the direction and commotion, we create a peaceful valley of ideas, memories, and hopes. We think on something and then ask ourselves what it means or how it can lead to improvement in life. We reflect also to give thanks for what we have, what we have experienced, for whatever it is we should hold sincerest gratitude for.

Reflection, “or to sit in serious thought,” letting thoughts of a day or moment or period of time bounce back from their memories into our current reality so that we may seriously consider the emotion and meaning of them. And forge new ideas and directions in life.

What a lovely way to enter into a new year, by bridging from the old one on the structure of reflection.
What will you reflect on, this first day of the new year, this auspicious time versed in renewal? Interrupt your thoughts for a moment, let your memories, hopes and emotions be the guides. Let a cup of coffee or tea or a glass of wine (Apothic Red, if you prefer a recommendation) settle in with you at the table or on the couch if you like a festive mood.

For an hour my husband and I sat, long-stemmed glasses in hand, the hookah burning the fragrance of fruity tobacco throughout the living room bringing an ambience like a temple ripe with incense, and we looked back in order to look forward. We reflected on goals accomplished, those making progress, those that may need total revisions. We talked about gratitude and ties between people, what keeps us, as loving and energetic beings, going in this life. It was the most formal pause for reflection I’ve had in a long time and it was refreshing.

Recently, I began reading the book Life After Death–“A must read for everyone who will die,” according to Dr. Candace B. Pert, Ph.D.–by Deepak Chopra. I respect Dr. Chopra’s experiences and perspectives and have been reading his books and listening to his lectures for many years; I consider him full of great resources as a spiritual teacher. In Life After Death, Chopra describes how there are different planes of existence that are based on different frequencies of consciousness, explaining the earth to be a dense spiritual world and lokas, referred to in the Western culture as astral planes, as higher spiritual planes. Chopra states, “Every frequency in nature exists simultaneously, and yet we experience only what we see.” He goes on to describe telepathy, clairvoyance, spirits and souls. We exist on an earth where we don’t see or hear the overlapping of existence of the planes, most often, but they are there and quite often coexisting.

Whether you believe there is more to the complex structure our material and immaterial universe and beyond–up to and including senses beyond the basic five, the existence of planes, the quantum field theories speaking of the entire universe as made of vibrating fields that play ” a vast, subatomic symphony,” and spirits and souls–or you don’t, at least be aware that existence is vast and rich, it is more full than we are aware of, and consequently holds many opportunities as long as we are willing to relfect, seek, and act.

Happy 2014, and if it didn’t start out with happy don’t despair; even if it appears that the “bad” is all that is present, it is actually coexisting with all that is “good.” Rest assured, the good is accessible.

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*Photograph: http://fccowasso.com/hope-in-god/

Is That Cheetah Print…or Cougar? A Tale of Cats, Women, and Pop Culture

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Popular culture sometimes creates strange, insulting, or ridiculous trends. I would like to nominate the “cougar” phenomenon for all three categories.

I have not a thing against what any consenting adults’ preferences are for relationships; we all exist to know the beauty of free choice, especially in terms of who we choose to share life with, or to date, or to dance and have fun among other things with. Let me tell you something about love–I know just as much as you or anyone else, and no more than that. I know if I fit or not with someone, I know how it feels to be in the right place–peaceful, healthy place that can overcome disruptions and always return to a sanctuary–with the right set of arms curved around me. That is all I know and need to know about love.

When love comes into existence between two people, it is a decision whether to honor it or not–you can stay with it and build that connection, or leave for whatever reason and never find out what whole, completed structure that connection might take. This we choose, keep it or not, but those first flickerings of attraction, curiosity, and connection that opened the doors to love are not by choice. They just are. Whether you think in terms of biological chemistry or in notions of soulmates, we all know we cannot force ourselves to either be attracted or not attracted to a particular person. It is there of its own intention, a force acting upon us.

Of course the cougar lifestyle that has been gracing pop culture vocabulary and media for several years now doesn’t speak much of love. It speaks of older women looking for excitement from much younger men. The exact definition I have extracted from online is “a woman in her forties who dates or has sexual relationships with men in their twenties.” A cougar, in essence, is the term for modern women taking up the look-at-me-I’m-worthy-because-I’m-with-a-hot-youthful-mate-young-enough-to-be-my-offspring role more traditional to men in a mid life crisis.

The cougar is commonly described as a fun yet desparate animal; typcially divorced and seeking new adventures; superficial and fearfully noticing the disintegration of her youth and physical attractiveness; immature on both the emotional and intellectual scales; lacking class and a sense of reality. They are generally pack animals: they gather on cougar dating websites and at cougar meet-up clubs, live in places such as Cougartown, and exhibit their varieties and habits on Facebook and other social networking sites. I know this because I did the research. My favorite research habitat, and one of the most informative for me, was a Facebook page dedicated to the glory of being a cougar. Many of the women posing in their cougar personas (a display not unlike a National Geograpic photoshoot) were quite attractive and appeared down-to-earth, yet there was still something a little amiss in their expressions: their eyes were perhaps a little overlyfocused, bearing the look of a creature both too hungry and too vacant at the same time. I remember breathing a sigh of relief to be able to tell myself I am not this type of animal.

Thank God, I would fit much better in the unicorn or phoenix category. Even the skillful, agile, and playful little rat category.

This relief brings me to a question that may have crossed your mind: Why must I be so negative and demeaning about the idea of a Cougar Culture, so unkind to other members of my gender instead of accepting all other women as my sisters? I’m only knocking the culture, the notion, the trend, not the actual women. It’s a personal issue that has drawn me into culture’s cougar territory; my husband is younger than I am, and I have incorrectly been summed up one too many times with the C-word. And in all honesty: I’ve grown weary of laughing about it while performing one of those calmly dismissive hand waves to indicate it’s okay, it’s all in good fun, I don’t mind if you think I’m a desparate old lady on death’s door trying to extend my mortality with young blood and my relationship is silly like a clown with oversized shoes and more oversized hair. I might find it within me to laugh with you a little more, but it seems sense of humor is sometimes one of the first things to go amidst the seriousness of old age.

Let me tell you something about love–personality is key. It is the one and only, both magical and practical key to how you mix with someone, determining whether you blend aesthetically together or turn a muddy, cloudy, unintelligible and unpleasant hue with. It’s a fact of our natures that we simply fit better with some friends, family members, colleagues, and potential mates than others.
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What I have found–age does stand out even to the couple when there is a large difference, but no more than when cultural or religious or educational backgrounds are different. I have seen couples evaluate such differences between themselves and more often than not reach the same conclusion my husband and myself, and countless others, have reached about age; that it is a superficial difference, just a surface thing. What we are as a body bound by biological processes of time, but not who we are as a soul. And soul, whether you believe in the soul as our immortal essence or as our emotional self bringing purpose to our mortal existence, is where we humans connect fully to each other, especially in love.

When I worked for the first time as a CNA, I cared for a man I will call “Dunn.” Dunn was in his 60s, bedridden, and like many of our patients, especially those who could rarely leave their rooms, loved for staff to stay around and talk. I used to sit on a chair across from Dunn in my down time at work, eating the chocolates he stored on the sly in his nightstand, and being a good listener while he mapped places of his history for me with stories from his life. One night he told me about his first wife, fifteen years older than Dunn. I had interrupted him to ask if the age difference was what destroyed the marriage (cougar relationships are said to lack longevity, generally ending when either the boy-toy or the cat-woman returns to his or her senses and recognizes that age-inappropriate relationships are merely flings, fun, or temporary insanity), but Dunn denied this as the reason. “I loved her very much,” he had said, “even the first time anyone ever asked if she was my mother. I always loved her.” (In her defense, Dunn at sixty-four looked about forty-four; it’s likely she was mistaken for a young mother.) Dunn went on to say that as time proceeded, “her loud to my quiet” wasn’t working. He described her as a vivacious, extroverted soul and labeled himself as a prototypical geek, validating his label with, “I’ve worn pocket protectors fully stocked with pens most of my life!” So eventually, it didn’t work, but Dunn swore that if it had he would be a sixty-four-year-old man loving his seventy-nine-year-old wife.

Personality is key. If the key is cut wrong, don’t expect it to work no matter which way you turn it. I was married a first time also, to a man my age. Our formative years shared a time in history: we remembered Reagan as president and hearing about the Cold War and Star Wars on the news and at school; the Challenger disaster; the fall of the Berlin Wall; 80s music, neon clothing, and parachute pants; Atari; televisions you still had to touch to adjust channels and volume; the lack of cell phones and internet. We even shared time in the same high school together, walked down the same hallways, cut class here and there with the same group of friends. We went on to have a relationship and a daughter together. We made an amazing team as parents and were very age appropriate. Being age appropriate is not what made us a good parenting team, however, and ultimately it did not make up for the connection we always seemed to be lacking between each other. We clashed the way one might consider Titans to, and were one of those couples where each person is a very good person individually and among all others, but not necessarily with each other. Sometimes, no matter how much you see the good in someone, getting close is not going to work when the chemistry equation never figures out right. You need to find equilibrium at some point.

All relationships have their worries, and age is quite often the least of them. I can laugh about cougar jokes and comments at times (including the comment once posted on a social network site picture in which I wore a leopard-print dress: Is that cheetah print…or cougar? Classic, I have to admit) but I also find it a tiresome and unfair label to throw at a woman because she is older than a man she loves. Popular culture has somewhat effectively conditioned people to think that a relationship where the woman is much older is not a serious, genuine, actual relationship. My husband and I considered this point a little bit, at least in the beginning; we shied away from the possible discomforts and stayed “friends,” a more socially acceptable status. But, whether you believe more in chemistry or in soulmates, you don’t choose physical, intellectual, and emotional attraction. It just shows up. When love begins to show itself, you decide where to go with it, and if there are differences, you decide how important or not they are. When love exists, outside opinions lose their force.

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I’ve met other women unfairly tallied into the cougar category, and each has lamented that it’s a bit silly for people to make comments such as, “Don’t you worry your husband will leave when, you know, you get older? Won’t he want someone with, well, less wrinkles and who, well, let’s just say, looks better in lingerie?”

It’s a curious thing, that desire to express negativity to others about others’ relationships; how can a species of thinking, emotional beings with such capacity for compassion sometimes become so snide to one another? I always hope our species will reach a point where we don’t worry about couples with age differences, with gender similarities, with different racial or cultural or religious backgrounds. I hope we can see a time, considering how far we have actually come along in time, when there isn’t so much controversy over something such as a Cheerios commercial featuring an interracial couple. How do we still fail to see each other as equal beings of the human race deserving equal, universal rights of love and respect in our earthly existence? Regardless of age, sex, color, creed, and who we love despite his or her age, sex, color, creed, and all kinds of other traits.

Something about love–we all need, desire, and deserve it.

A cougar is a large cat of the Felidae family, also known by the names mountain lion, puma, panther, and catamount. It has four feet on which it runs with agility, it has whiskers and a wet nose and tan fur. It is not a woman who loves the man she is with despite the fact that she had already accumulated a lot of life experience before he was even born. As adults, he has likely caught up with her on experience (in a number of ways) anyway.

Don’t be so quick to cry cougar if your daughter, sister, mother, aunt, grandmother, best friend, or any other woman in your life shows up happily involved with a man who is younger. Don’t assume it is only a phase or only fun or a disillusioned attempt to avoid reality and will end in either the man packing up to find a younger lady, or the woman making a run for an older gentleman.

Demi Moore, Jennifer Lopez, and Madonna are three women who, due to their fame–and the obsession culture has with fame–have been offered to the world as studies of the cougar species. (And they are definitely not the first well-known women in history to have had a reputation for being with younger men.) What people forget is that these are real women who have (or have had) real relationships with a real history of partnership and love, and real heartbreak if the relationship ended. What the media has ceated by criticizing, mocking, and trivializing the relationships of these women so publicly–or likewise calling out Way to go, ladies! You found yourselves a younger man! You are hot! You are worthwhile!–is a negative chain reaction in which we think we can diminish these women to superficial or ridiculous or desperate creatures. Next, we think we can do the same to every woman in a similar situation.

And, of course, once we start negatively judging one type of couple, we feel justified to move on to another type, and then to various groups of people, and various individuals, and we find others doing the same to us. The cycle of judgment is neverending; at the very least, though, we can avoid strengthening it by avoiding calling each other out on the most trivial of differences that are really not hurting anyone.

In all honesty, it doesn’t hurt my sense of who I am as an individual or in my relationship when I get the occasional negative comment about our age difference. (I admit it’s a little easier now, given people most often think I’m younger than my age, therefore closer to my husband’s age. We’ll see how it is if my slow aging speeds up within the next years.) As with any relationship securely structured with love, what the outside world has to say about our preference remains unimportant–as stated before, those outside opinions simply lose force.

Still, it is nice to be recognized as just another regular, human woman, not a strange hybrid of succubus and cat. I’m sure their are other woman who agree, and possibly a few tan, agile, Felidae cats who would agree as well.

Cougar Image shared from images.fineartamerica.com. http://images.fineartamerica.com/images-medium-large-5/cougar-smile-athena-mckinzie.jpg

Tabletop Fountains and Running Much Like the Wind

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If you’ve never settled a miniature fountain onto a tabletop in your home, it’s never too late to try something new in your days.

If you generally walk, and only walk, to get from point A to B to every other letter you might need to visit and then back again, you might want to take a suggestion to pick up your feet higher, quicker, and run! Race the wind until you can (A) win or(B) blend in, moving as much like it in steadiness and speed as possible. Also, if you’re not familiar with mangos and lentils, prayer, yoga, relaxation techniques, deep breathing, calming music, camping, turning somersaults, connecting with art, understanding anatomy, opening your arms to the rain, holding an amazing Cecropia moth in your hands, laughing way out loud, standing in a gorgeous garden and simply stopping in place to study the way a fountain’s water reflects back the sun, forms of meditation, understanding the physics of energy, understanding the basics of holism, understanding how to laugh at warped humor, it’s fine, your mind can adapt to whatever change you ask it to take on.

Why take on changes, you may wonder, why try something new? A change is a shift, transformation, or alteration, and can be as simple as a change of clothing or hair cut or home decor or can go all the way to a transcendent life change that will bring you a meaning and peace of your place in existence that you possibly hadn’t even known you were looking for. Change gives us a broader range of view and motion in the world. It fulfills our needs to evolve into greater capacities of love and connection with ourselves and, in sequential order, others. Change is healthy, and we want and need healthy to keep this world going around.

Holism is a recognition that all parts relate to the others, that a system (be it an individual body or an entire society) works best when each part is functioning as it was meant to, and likewise the system can falter if even a single part gets knocked out of its course of action. Heal the body and the mind will heal, and in the mind healing the body will heal. When an individual is healed–healing meaning having strengthened the ability to function holistically–that individual can move that healing energy into his or her relationships. Individuals heal to become whole in all their human components of body/mind/soul, and couples and groups heal to become whole as components of security and peace to each other to create lives that are fulfilling, together.

Healing varies in intensity and need, and it’s often to our benefit think of healing as a daily practice, as it’s easy to get knocked from the course of our best actions even when we go out into the world with our best intentions.
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Traffic, spilled coffee, lost wallets or cell phones, stolen cars, broken in homes that threaten both our emotional and physical security, rude people in stores, rude people on the telephone, rude people in your own house (sometimes you as the rude person), viruses and allergies, jobs we don’t really want but do really need, debt upon debt, lack of time, too much time when all we want is the day to hurry up and move on, sunburn, spider bites, bed bugs, hail damage, paying for toilet paper with quarters, being unhappy around chihuahuas, anything at all can put a heavy finger on our emotional eqilibrium to tip it, prompting us to justify staying out of balance regardless of the risk this causes to our health, the health of others, and of the world where we all so dearly need to reside in balance. It’s important to stay mindful of methods that bring us relaxation and a sense of well-being both physically and mentally.

If the musicality of a tiny fountain or a daily running routine provides you with health, then you do this. If it’s eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, then you do this. If it’s volunteering, painting things that bring others a sense of appreciation of beauty and emotion, or praying you go for it, with confidence. If you’re really not sure what brings you to your best place of health with yourself and others, then you start trying new things. You look for changes of habit, hobby, or idea. You seek until you find.

And you will find what it is that improves your quality of living and lets you contribute to the greater life you function within; there is no exclusive club in the universe that shuts out certain people in their quests to change, evolve, or fit in. Everything, everyone already fits in, already an important component of this whole world.
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Website Provided: Nelson’s Natural World, a listing of types of holistic therapies, also referred to as complementary therapies. The therapies are referenced as complementary in the Western practice of medicine because they are considered as non-mainstream methods combined with conventional medicine. It is always best to follow the treatments suited for a specific condition as stated by your licensed, competent physician. They earned their license for a reason, and true holism leaves nothing out that is beneficial to healing and overall well-being, be it of complementary or conventional school of thought.

http://www.nelsonsnaturalworld.com/en-gb/uk/natural-health-resource/complementary-medicines/types-of-complementary-therapies/

While Moving Through The World One Summer

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When the night came in, we rode it–as if it were a thing as structured as our own legs. Or the cars on a city train. Things that carry and it carried all who stepped on. It was gracile, it was precise. Like the trains it invited us to keep moving because even the most circular distances eventually offer a divergence, slipping you through a boundary, the erasing of imagined lines.

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What I loved about stepping out of Union Station onto Canal Street in Chicago was everything. It was an intense, revitalizing change from the dear and lovely and much smaller city I had left a little over nine hours earlier. I loved the absolute motion of busy, unending traffic, and the turban worn by the taxi driver who answered my waving hand, and the Islamic prayer beads hanging on the taxi’s rearview mirror, and the layers and layers of streets crowded with layers and layers of people, and the unavoidable energy of so many lives taking place within the same perimeters. I was in the right place in a right time.

Being there did not save my life, but it helped me, immeasurably and graciously, as I started a new phase of my lifetime.

Out of curiosity, adventure, the need for growth or entertainment, we travel to new places. We travel for any number of personal reasons, including out of love; love for a place or a person, or love for ourselves when we need to give ourselves whatever opportunities, from whatever new ideas and experiences, lie inside of taking in new surroundings.

The first line of motivation for me in my journey: love.

The love of a friend who had possessed the valor to be there for me on the opposite end of telephone calls and messages during little patches of calamity in my days. Then to be there for me at the transit station, where I stood in the heat, my bags on a bench beside me, an unsteady feeling of anxiety still threatening to overpower enthusiasm in my change of habitat. Such a strong seed of love cracked itself open and filled my body when a car stopped at the curb and I saw a smile I hadn’t seen in almost ten months and suddenly realized how very much I needed this smile.

The love of myself also–I deserved this trip because it was the right action for me to take. I hadn’t left my hometown in two years and, simply, I had been longing to move beyond its borders and walk along different streets and drink coffees in different cafes and feel the interesting coexistence of sameness and alienness that would exist while nestling into these different settings. I always feel my appreciation of this world broaden when I see more of it.

The second line of motivation for me: I need to grow.

Every day, for months, for close to a year, I had been repeating this to myself as both a reminder and a challenge.

I need to grow.

I had been finding myself thinking back to my time in the Platonic Society, my university’s philosophy club. It might seem simple, and likely boring to some: five to ten people sitting in academic offices, professors’ homes, or cafes and discussing what reality really is, what the purpose of our existence really is, what knowledge itself really is.

Discussing, mind you, not conducting experiments, not moving about in the world and experientially determining the validity of the philosophers’ words we were quoting, paraphrasing, analyzing. We were discussing, talking, shooting the breeze in other words. But we were all so full of passion to really know why we are here; why, like everyone else, we’ve been given this time and this reality and then, what we are supposed to do with it. We were talking, and we were growing, and the fact that we felt ourselves growing–even if in slight and uneven ways much of the time–gave us more passion to keep our minds searching for more words, more ideas, and more discussions.

During my time in the world of philosophy meetings and soirees*, I collected a number of quotes from the writings of many of the philosphers who have passionately assessed the knowledge banks of our universe in order to take in as much as they can understand so that they may put it back out with reciprocity, that all may have the chance to take from it what they will, and possibly understand themselves and existence a little more comfortably. I needed to grow, and a quote from Rene Descartes kept presenting itself in my mind, and I let it stay, and analyzed it, and let its meaning grow:

“The greatest minds are capable of the greatest vices as well as the greatest virtues.”

I took out greatest in relation to mind, this wasn’t important to the situation. All minds, as I decided to understand it, are capable of the greatest vices and the greatest virtues. We are all susceptible to negativity that impacts our lives in a negative way, but we are all also capable of redeeming ourselves. In any situation.

I needed to grow, and so I bought tickets for Amtrak, packed a couple of bags, and rode nine and a half hours to Chicago, uncertain if I was going to make it through the train ride as well as the next few days without having an anxiety attack, the full-blown type that induces physical and mental panic. Uncertain if I would be able to fully enjoy the adventure I knew I needed. There would be only a distance of roughly two states between myself and my home–my city and my family–but in terms of being in my safety zone, I was in the hundreds of thousands of miles out of range. Still, I needed to grow.

And I did. A lot can happen to the mind and heart, the logic and emotions, within a seventy-two hour duration, which is about the amount of time it took me to go and come back.

It’s too personal to explain, though, and this is how it goes for each of us. Part of our journey is external, yes, but a greater part is internal. It is how we, as individual selves or personalities or souls, hold our experiences within the places of ourselves that keep us fastened to our world with passion, love, compassion, and what we believe to be our own, identifiable, unique purpose here.

I could try to explain exactly what it meant to me to ride through a bigger city; to be wrapped in the warmth of a friend (and, I would later discover, my future husband) I was grateful to be with and who participated in setting a huge change in my life in motion; to observe the vivacity of so many different kinds of people moving with the city by foot, vehicle, or city train; to have the feeling that I could be a part of any place and any people on this earth that I place myself among. I could ask you to understand how healing and symbolic it was to cross the boundaries of state lines, move forward and break free of the circular motion I had confined my days to, often too timid to venture further into the great, waiting world. I could give play by play details of what it was like to synchronically bend, alter, then break both physical and mental habits of hiding, how it was done, and how extremely, way, way cool it was to grow up in a much needed way, finally! Thank God.

I think, though, that these images in my memory are most poignant to me and me only. That is how it is and I would like to keep it this way. What I can share is the basic, overarching idea–that moving in the world always helps, in some way.

So I leave you with a quote that I’m really liking these days: “If you cannot get out of it, you may as well get into it.”

During online research I discovered this quote, said to be “popular in the U.S. Army.” Yes, you’re in this existence, you have a lifetime, you cannot get out of this fact. This thought has occurred to me many a time in my life, giving me a bizarre, surreal type of feeling most times. Often, I haven’t known what to do with this vague discomfort that can accompany being such a sentient being. Now I know: just do what I’m doing, as they say. Take more trips, ride more trains, walk down as many roads and sidewalks and hills and other forms of terrain as possible. Just get into it, this clever little creation called life, as much as possible.

*A note on the soirees: A colleague once asked me if philosophy soirees have anything other than wine and cheese, undoubtedly imagining them as extremely formal affairs. And while yes, many that I attended did have wine and cheese, they also tended to offer barbeque wings, potato chips, and beer. It could be a Midwest America thing, though.

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/06/27/lost-in-the-clouds/” Lost in the Clouds?–NY Times, article on philosophy

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/06/27/lost-in-the-clouds/” Travel to Create Yourself–Psychology Today