From the Sounds of Silence to Perpetual Motion

Just a few snaps since the beginning of the year...

And it’s time to write. And write. And write. This is a long one for a lot has happened in the last five months...

I’m sitting at a writer’s retreat house in the Eastern Sierras right now and finally putting “pen to paper” after a few long and transformative months. A couple months back, I was invited to stay here to photograph for the retreat’s marketing materials. Even after making a huge life decision to move out of the Bay Area and with the move scheduled for a couple of weeks from now, I decided it was important for Brennan and I to go on this little trip. Given our ten year wedding anniversary is June 3rd and we'll be unpacking and living in a trailer for our anniversary, we also decided to celebrate our ten years together here in this spectacular place. I also went forward with a previously planned trip to Mercey Hot Springs with friends (and a couple of blissful days alone with Brennan). What I’ve discovered in the last few months has been life-changing and I want it to be a part of what’s taught at The Healing Farm and The Healing Farm | Retreats in addition to the nutrition and exercise components.

Something I’ve learned through meditation (and lots of self-exploration) is to not let my emotions and ego rule my life and decision-making and to also go a little more with the flow rather than letting situations, planning and fear rule my life and schedule; something my new “boss” echoed when I was racing around trying to make a big decision and freaking out a bit a few weeks ago. Made me feel like where I was headed was in the right direction (thanks, Steven).

My “boss” you ask? For someone who’s been self-employed and has started two businesses, this is pretty freaky to say! So let me explain what has happened since my last heart-wrenching blog entry!

THE SOUNDS OF SILENCE

My 50th year ended with some major challenges (see my previous blog post for more details). I was writing a business plan for The Healing Farm and had planned for a big women’s retreat to keep the business moving in a direction which would give me more experience and more visibility for The Healing Farm | Retreats. I was keeping my head above water until Mayacamas Ranch (the retreat property at which I was to hold my last retreat) burned down. It was three weeks before my 51st birthday, the end of the wedding photography season and I was in the intense Renaissance business plan writing program twice a week. Try finishing a business plan while trying to resuscitate the women’s retreat and also go away for the holidays. Not an easy end to the year.

2018 rolled in with the month of January:

  • Making the decision not to move forward with rescheduling the retreat since I couldn’t find a location that I truly felt could accommodate my specifications and having to let my retreat team and guests know of this decision
  • Starting to try to work out the financial losses with Mayacamas Ranch (huge!)
  • Finishing the business plan + graduation

Thankfully I had all of my photo projects behind me, I split the “best business plan” award at graduation and presumably had a “plan” for moving forward with The Healing Farm business - after all that’s what a business plan is for! I should have been rearing to go to start working toward making 2018 the year I took a leap of faith forward with The Healing Farm business! But one gorgeous Saturday, I went to a shoreline cleanup event with the Trident Project which is a non-profit a business friend started to build awareness about pollution in our oceans.

Something happened that morning as I realized the enormity of the planet’s peril. I spent an hour working on about a six square foot patch on the East Bay shoreline. Picking up tiny pieces of plastic, styrofoam, hypodermic needles, plastic straws, plastic portable flossing devices (I’m all for flossing, but let’s get rid of those things. They are EVERYWHERE), plastic caps, etc. This didn’t even include all the micro-fibers which is what my friend who is in the sailing clothing business wants to build awareness about. I had about a ¼ mile, maybe ½ mile walk to get back to my car and I couldn’t move beyond a snail’s pace. I got home and slept for two hours and when I woke up I just couldn’t get my energy back. And the next day was the same. And the next day was the same. I entered into what I might now call a depression and deep exhaustion. I was:

  • Exhausted from running one business while starting another
  • Exhausted emotionally from the devastating wildfires which even affected my business in a big way and so many others who lost lives and homes.
  • Exhausted financially
  • Exhausted worrying about the future of this planet
  • Exhausted by our political climate and situation
  • Exhausted from writing a 45 page business plan complete with two years of financials (something is is not in my natural tool house)
  • Exhausted trying to change my life
  • Exhausted from perimenopause
  • Exhausted from my mid-life crisis which is in about year 7 (yes, really!)
  • Exhausted worrying about family illness

I just couldn’t get motivated. So I didn’t. I decided to let myself rest as long as I needed. I guess you could say I took a sabbatical. I’m sure to most people this sounds like a luxury and I admit I’m lucky to be self-employed. It was a huge financial risk and setback, but I strongly believe this kind of time of reflection should be available to all of us. It’s a crime that our workforce encourages long hours and constant work and it’s a disservice to all Americans that the majority are underpaid and overworked with only 1-3 weeks of vacation for the typical person. I’ve thought about a lot of big issues during this time of reflection and sabbatical and feel strongly that it shouldn’t be a luxury for just a few.

So this is what I did:

  • I slept as long as I liked
  • I took the time to pray on my knees
  • I took the time for longer meditations
  • I took the time to not only read Jett Psaris’ book “Hidden Blessings” (about midlife crisis), but also to do every exercise in the book and wrote them down in a journal
  • I took the time to hike
  • I only answered essential emails to keep my businesses running on pilot light
  • But mostly, I just took time to be with myself, in my house and let my mind run free

And here's what happened from my time of silence:

INTO (almost) PERPETUAL MOTION

I found the time to help care for a dying friend and her children - something that has had a profound effect on my life. I had the honor of taking her to Ocean Beach for what turned out to be her last time.

I was re-contacted by a friend who in the spring of 2017 asked if I would be interested in helping to develop a 50 acre organic farm in the Sierra Foothills.

Just as I was finishing the “Hidden Blessings” book, I was contacted by a woman who was interested in talking about partnering on a retreat property in Idaho. It wasn’t the right fit/place or timing, but she sent me a message the week I finished Jett’s book. Knowing I was wrestling with some big decisions and emotions, there was a new moon that coming Friday and with a new moon (she told me) it’s a good time to contemplate big decisions so she suggested I take some time that Friday to reflect on a big decision. Sounded a little woo woo to me and then I read one of the last exercises in Jett’s book which suggested a “meditation” in nature. More of a walking meditation. A time to go out into nature and connect in a profound way to the universe and myself. More woo woo, but I thought the coincidence was just too big. Friday came and I announced to Brennan that I was going to pack a small daypack and go to our local regional park and spend the day. I planned on hiking a three mile loop and brought food, a little pot vape pipe (yes, it’s legal now in CA!) a blanket and a backpacking chair and I had the most blissful day of reflection I’ve ever had. It took me seven hours to do that loop. I stopped and communed with nature. I felt the sun on my face. I laughed and I cried. I slept and I hiked. I had a vision of wanting more security in my life and that I wanted to be cared for and then I realized I’m cared for in an incredibly deep emotional way by my husband which matters the most (to me). I realized that although I knew we needed to move out of the Bay Area I wasn’t interested in moving outside of my beloved West Coast (unless it’s back to the Midwest with my family) and I realized I still wanted to pursue The Healing Farm, but that maybe I needed to take a different path to get there. That few hours of bliss lifted me out of that depression and malaise just enough that I could see the point of light and plan the next tiny steps to get fully beyond that dark place. The pot helped too.

And then more and more profound things started to happen.

I opened my mind up to exploring the offer in the Sierra Foothills further and took baby steps to take a realistic look at what it would be like to move and the opportunity the experience offered to help develop a small retreat property on an organic farm. Wasn’t that what I wanted The Healing Farm to be on a larger scale anyway? Brennan and I went for a night. Then we went for a whole week, then I typed up a proposal and went back a couple more times on my own and slowly it started to occur to me that it was the absolute right next step to take. I could spearhead a retreat property development at very low risk to myself and at the same time take a baby step out of the Bay Area which allows me to finish out my 2018 wedding photography season and still see my friends and family in the Bay Area which made the idea of a move not so heart-wrenching. And so it happened and we started making plans for a move at the end of May. I started working part-time for the farm a few weeks ago and love every minute of it. Every time I go to the farm for a night, I don’t want to leave. The air is clear. I can collect fresh eggs from the henhouse. I can eat all the organic produce I can get my hands on. I can envision a retreat property and hosting my own healing retreats once it’s finished (or rustic retreats while it’s in development). I can live with a little community of people who care about the land and what we eat and how to live their lives mindfully. If I hadn’t given myself that time to relax and reflect, I’m not sure I would have been ready to take such a big leap and despite the fact that we’re going to move into a 26’ trailer and will have to walk outside to get to a shower and a toilet, I’m learning to embrace living so minimally for a little while. We’ll have nature and an organic farm, two mountain rivers and three warm and sunny seasons to live outdoors. It’s going to be a challenge. For sure. BUT I’ve built up my energy reserves in the last few months and am truly ready to jump in and give this next step my all. Check out Stone’s Throw Farm CA. This will be my new home.

Embracing what came my way without fear and without judgement on myself for making what seemed to be extravagant decisions given my work and financial situation was also part of this time of reflection. After I had my “visionquest” day as I’m now calling it, situations that just seemed right started to come my way and I started embracing what felt right despite that I was feeling a little fearful:

I serendipitously realized that Jett Psaris, the author of that profound book on midlife crisis that I can’t shut up about was doing a workshop at Esalen Institute. I’d been wanting to go to Esalen for many years since it’s been an inspiration for The Healing Farm and I’ve never been! I tried to get a “sleeping bag” space, but they were sold out, so I booked a shared room and contacted a friend and Healing Farm client who I know also got a lot out of the “Hidden Blessings” book. She had recently moved to the East Coast, but she happened to be coming to the Bay Area for some meetings and we roomed together. It was a great experience. I fell in love with Esalen and really loved the workshop and listening to others who were also trying to change their lives in their midlife transition, plus I got to bond with this very special woman who was my roommate and who made some of her own big decisions that weekend. A new deep friendship (thanks, Rae!)!

I had also been wanting to experience 1440 Mutiversity - the new retreat center development in the Santa Cruz mountains. My fave publication “Conscious Company” was holding a “World Changing Women’s Summit” there and damnit! I really want to be a World Changing Woman. I couldn’t really afford it, so I reached out to see if there was a volunteer opportunity or a scholarship (something I never would have thought to do in the past since I would have thought I wasn’t worthy). We worked it out and I was so on fire and inspired by the women at this conference that it also turned out to be somewhat of a life-changing experience. I stayed at the last minute on property in one of the “bunk bed” rooms. Although 1440 is NOTHING like I envision for The Healing Farm property, it was good to get a feel for a large and new property, their programs, their food AND their accommodations.

Brennan and I have been rocking our house as we get closer to moving. We’ve loved living in our little neighborhood and house in Oakland and although I’m sad to leave, I realized I’m ready for this big shift. We’ve made the time to enjoy our last couple of months and I’ve become inspired by a whole new side of myself and my relationship which I’ve been hinting at for several months. Sex is a big part of my life and relationship and I’ve realized how important release is and I have ideas percolating for sharing this side of myself and my relationship as a future part of the retreat business so stay tuned!

I’ve made time to book some weddings, shoot and deliver some gorgeous photos to happy clients, write a mini-business plan (and had fun doing it) for Stone’s Throw Farm’s event arm of the business. I’ve held the hand of someone within the last week of her life, who was younger than me and had so much more of her life to live and have been further inspired to build The Healing Farm to try to prevent so many deaths of those far too young. I happened to be driving up to Mt. Shasta to photograph a small retreat property  (Hestia Magic  - my photos not up yet!) on the day of my friend’s death and I felt like I was channelling her spirit as I sang and cried and then I realized she had just climbed Mt. Shasta two years ago for breast cancer awareness. More seemingly perfect timing. Brennan and I made time for that little trip to Mercey Hot Springs and this current trip to the Eastern Sierras.

I feel like my wings are opening up and I’m finally embracing who I am at my core. I don’t know where this current road will take me, but am pretty sure it’s a leap of faith on the right path for who I am. Taking the time to let myself feel exhausted and depressed ultimately has helped me work to the next level of my journey and I’m slowly getting my energy back and more and more excited about the work ahead.

I visited a friend from my very first business class yesterday. In the second class of the program, she and I met a few times to be part of each other’s business start-up support system. She was tired of the rat race of the Bay Area and wanted to get out of the construction business which is something she’d always done just because it was just what she ended up doing, but she wanted something more. She wanted to follow a dream of opening up a coffee shop. Fast forward three years and I drank the most lovely cup of coffee you’ll get on this side of the Sierras at her Pupfish Cafe coffee shop in Bishop, CA. She took a huge leap of faith and left the Bay Area and a relationship to follow her dream in a place where she never imagined she would live. She looked happy and relaxed. She’s running her small coffee shop, laughed at the fact that she’s living in a trailer community with mostly retired people (we compared notes about our trailers), hikes and has developed friendships out here. I asked her how much she works and she said 50 hours a week (not bad for owning and running a business). I asked her if she likes it and she said it’s the best thing she’s ever done. She was proud of her offerings and her employees and for now is content with where she’s at.

Janette and Pupfish Cafe, Steven and Bryanna and the folks at Stone’s Throw Farm, Jett Psaris and the awesome women at the Conscious Company Women’s Summit, Sydney of Ocean’s SF, Belinda and Hestia Magic, all of my friends and family who have been supportive of my crazy dream, the brave souls who wrote business plans last fall taking two classes per week while working full time, brave Jill who fought so hard to fight her cancer but said she was “ready to leave her body” a few days before she died, the woman in Idaho who is trying to follow her dream, and the people who continue to reach out to me to ask when I’m going to host my next retreat or “where is The Healing Farm property”, I say this: Thank you. Continue to follow your dreams. Find out who you really are. Let go of fear and influence and just be. Maybe, just maybe you’ll find your way, get your energy back and have a more hopeful outlook for your life and your very short time on this beautiful planet. My biggest hope is that everything that I do in the next few years will lead to The Healing Farm property where I can share my dreams and life with you.

Reach for the stars because we are (as Carl Sagan says) all made of star stuff.

On month five and two weeks out from a major move and feeling incredibly creative and beautiful. I should listen to myself more often.....

Wild Willy's Hot Springs in the Eastern Sierra - taken the week I wrote this post and yes, I'm naked and covered in mud. LIVE A LITTLE!

The Best-Laid Plans of Mice and Men: How to pick up the pieces and move on...

 One small sign of hope on the charred Mayacamas Ranch property

One small sign of hope on the charred Mayacamas Ranch property

“The best-laid plans of mice and men….”

We’ve all heard that saying. Even if you give something your all and feel you have all the pieces in place to prevent failure, major challenge or an unwanted outcome, circumstances even beyond your control can cause your plan to go awry. This happened recently with The 3rd Act Women’s Retreat scheduled for October 29th - November 2nd.

The fantastic speakers and practitioners were in place. We had women coming from the Bay Area, Maine, New Jersey and the Midwest. We had the perfect retreat property booked and ready to make us our specific elimination diet meal plan and we had hopes for relaxation, growth, learning and meeting new friends. Within the first day of the devastating California wildfires our much-loved Mayacamas Ranch burned to the ground and all was lost for the owners and their 12 employees. Jobs, their gorgeous property and even homes. And for The Healing Farm Retreats and all the other retreat leaders and retreat participants, we lost a very special property that was unique in so many ways. As stated on the Mayacamas website and in their fundraising campaign:

“It is my deep belief that something beautiful will emerge from this devastation.”

It is my own hope that the owners of the property have it in them to rebuild and I hope to hold retreats at the property in the future, but in the meantime I had to make the decision to relocate or postpone the retreat.

As the week went on and the wildfires continued to destroy acres and acres of land, wineries and properties at which I had photographed so many weddings over the years and as the death toll continued to rise, I was frantically trying to find another location at which to hold the retreat. I was tired, I was heartbroken and I was fearing for more and more loss as the fires burned. I finally had to come to the conclusion that it was best to reschedule the retreat and started going about notifying guests and team members and trying to contact the devastated staff of Mayacamas to figure out the financial end of the loss for my own business (at least in the short term). I am so grateful that I have developed the skills through my own growth process in the past few years to “roll with the punches” as another well-known saying goes. That hasn’t been easy in the last two weeks, but here’s what I continue to do to calm myself in trying times:

Meditation and Prayer

Just 10-20 minutes a day is life-changing. You can really teach your mind to view your worry, obsessive thoughts and sorrow as fleeting and to see this life as existing in a much bigger place than all of us. This situation was not as devastating to me as to so many others, but compounded with running two businesses, staying in touch with my marriage and going to a business plan writing class two nights a week it was hard and continuing to do the meditation practice almost every morning really gave me a sense of calm and understanding that life is so much greater than myself. There are two books that I always recommend. Both of which have helped me understand meditation practice:

Regular Exercise - Oh that Seven Minute Workout!

I’ve mentioned it countless times, but it’s because I believe in it so much. The New York Times Seven Minute workout is essential to my well-being. If I don’t workout (and meditate) in the morning the day gets away from me and it doesn’t get done and then I feel down. When I do the workout, it lifts spirits and energy levels like nothing else. When it’s hard for me to get out of bed because I’m down and I really don’t want to workout, I do my other routines (meditation and prayer, coffee and email/news and making the bed) and then it’s hard for me to justify blowing off a workout that takes seven minutes! Once I do it, I’m usually motivated enough to add-on my equal-length stretching routine derived from years of yoga. I’ve added another seven minute workout to alternate with the NYT workout too. For women over 40, keeping up your muscle mass is key to weight management and bone health, so I now alternate days and added a Pop Sugar seven minute hand weight routine (thanks for the tip Christina of Nightingale Photo!). Between these two workouts, I feel toned and healthy and it really doesn’t take long. Plus it’s a GREAT stress-reliever. Especially if you put on DJ Dan in the background!

Healthy Diet, Low or No Alcohol and Great Sex!

The past few months I’ve gone back to an elimination diet meal plan (first learned with Chris Kresser's "A Paleo Cure Book")  pretty much full time until I relieve some chronic conditions that have popped back up. I haven’t had a drop of alcohol, carbs, grains, dairy or sugar in about ten weeks. I’ve dropped 25 pounds and am looking and feeling great. If I had gone through this major challenge at the weight I was at, feeling bloated and belchy and tired and drinking too much wine on top of it, I might not have gotten out of bed while the California wildfires raged. Even though food and alcohol can be soothing when you’re feeling down or stressed and offers some immediate relief, give it a little time and you’re going to actually feel worse. We all know this, yet we continue to repeat these old patterns of comfort. Teaching yourself newer, healthier patterns of comfort (like mindfulness meditation) can really help you in a more positive way when you’re dealing with stress.

And then there’s sex. Glorious sex. Or maybe I should just say “orgasm” because not all of us have partners! There’s nothing like a relaxing evening (or afternoon) at home in bed (or wherever) and a mind-blowing orgasm to relax you and to bring you back to who you are at the core. We are sexual beings. Sex can be the best of mindful meditation. It can take you to a place of pure being like nothing else. Sex with a trusted partner with whom you have a deep connection also makes you feel secure and loved. No matter what happens in your life you can always be reminded that you are who you are at your core, the people you love the most will be with you in hard times and we all pretty much have the ability as human beings to feel this great pleasure and connection to others. It’s really darned important in my book and I feel fortunate that I have grown to not be insecure or afraid or guilty about being a sexual human being and hope to one day lead a Healing Farm retreat about this very important topic. Plus it’s fun!

Does going from devastation to talking about sex seem like crazy talk? I hope not. I hope you can see the connected dots.

I did leave one very important tip out of the above list because I truly haven’t found the time in the past two weeks (except sitting in my own backyard and riding my bike to the farmer's market) so here’s one that may be the most important of all:

Getting out in Nature

This can wrap all of the above into one really lovely gift. All can be done in nature (although the sex part is a little tricky - you may need a tent).

“One touch of nature makes the whole world kin” - William Shakespeare

We are all one interconnected organism on this planet and in this universe. Carl Sagan once said we are all made of starstuff and it’s true. Every part of nature is one big mixed and interconnected bunch of elements and when we go into nature we can see the awe of creation and our part in it right in front of us. Getting out into fresh air, taking a hike, camping, looking at the stars can really make us see the awesomeness of the universe and help us to understand our miniscule place in it and suddenly worries can lift and drift away.

Meditate, pray, exercise, eat what nature and human hands provide (whole foods!) and have a kick-ass orgasm all in nature and see how you feel. For those who have lost homes and loved-ones none of this will help in the short term, but keeping at it and chipping away at all of life’s difficulties and tragedies as they come our way (because they will always continue to do so) and learning how to practically deal with our challenges and emotions will help so much in the long run.

In the meantime, grieve if you need to, volunteer if you can, give money if you’re able, but most of all take care of yourself and learn what makes YOU accept and move through your own challenges more gracefully and with hope.

Snow in July, First Mountains, First Waterfalls, First Mountain River Swims: Taking Time off and Showing Kids the Wonder of Nature!

I love my midwestern family and I love nature and California and when I can put the three together, it's pure joy for me. Seeing that joy reflected on my nephew's faces as I showed them their first real mountains, their first waterfalls, their first swims in icy snowmelt rivers and their first glimpse of an ocean was a dream I've had since moving to California from Chicago 15 years ago. 

I speak often about the importance of time off, but I'm not sure I've spoken much about the importance of family to me. My family is everything. I have five siblings, eleven nieces and nephews and two parents who have taught us the importance of family and loyalty all of our lives. I also have an amazing husband who truly loves me for who I am and his family too! I consider myself lucky every day and as part of my gratitude practice, I'm thankful for all of their general health and longevity and our close relationships.

Helping my family understand why I moved to California and never came back is not easy to explain in words, but when they eventually come and visit I can take them to some of the glorious places that I love and show them with eyes and ears. Getting out in nature is the best thing we can do for our souls and with The Healing Farm it's something I want to share with all.

In California we preach to the choir. Most people in California hike or surf or camp or at least go to the beach sometimes to watch the sunset over the biggest ocean in the world (something I looked up with my nephews when I realized they had never seen an ocean before), but there are a lot of people in the country (maybe our president!) who aren't in nature much and are missing out on how it can help heal us at all levels. It also teaches us how tiny we are in the grand scheme of things. That's been an important factor for me in my midlife journey as I've learned to let go of a lot of stress just by considering that I can't control a lot of what's going on in this crazy world. I also have learned let go of needless worrying. If I can't control it or change it what's the point in getting stressed? All of this becomes more and more clear when I'm on a hike or at the ocean or am jumping into a cold mountain river.

Family, time off, being in nature are the precious things in life that we all need to make time for. I'm proud of my nephews for trying so much while they were out here (including surfing and boogie-boarding!). On the last night they were in town we ordered food in and had a pajama dance party in my living room with my husband as D.J. Being the young ones they are they ended up saying that was their favorite part of their trip. I understood though because it was yet another glimpse of their unadulterated joy. I saw it on their faces when they were dipping their toes in the Wa Ka Luu Hep Yoo river, I saw it when they saw snow on Ebbett's Pass, I saw it when they were rafting down the Merced River in Yosemite Valley, when they did their first true mountain hike to Cascade Falls in Tahoe and when they successfully rode the waves on the Pacific Ocean in Santa Cruz. The awesomeness of nature and dancing with abandon to music created by humans after challenges you've never experienced before are equal in mindfulness meditation. It's a glimpse of how connected we all are with each other and nature.

Take a break. Dance in your living room, dance in nature. Show some kids nature like they have never seen it before and watch your own spirit fly!