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How I Love

In Uncategorized on July 14, 2011 at 9:29 pm

Print by K. Barteski

This week I have been thinking about how I love.

The monologue rolling and rolling around in my head always seems to start with what I know for sure about love.

Love is vital for human development. Studies have shown that babies thrive when they are loved. They will fail to thrive if they are not. We are born knowing how to love but often lose those skills as we grow older. The only true way to  re-learn how to love is to simply love and allow yourself to be loved. While one can read all about it, it can’t be learned from a book, magazine article or blog post (believe me, I have tried) but instead it must be experienced in the flesh.

Love is a choice.  Despite what I read in fairy tales and young adult novels, there isn’t some bolt of lighting that strikes you. There isn’t just one soul mate “out there” for everyone. Instead love is a conscious choice that we each make each and every day, a choice to open our imperfect hearts to falling in love with other imperfect soul before us.

Everyone wants to be loved. Every single one of us, whether we admit it or not, move through the world seeking love and connection through our words and actions. The problems arise when we figure out that what we want most in the world is often what we fear in equal measure – being seen and loved matters that much. I know that I have been guilty of pushing away love for fear of it being taken away.

This week I find myself questioning how I love.

For a long time, for fear of getting hurt or worse yet, looking like fool, I loved in silence, I loved in a way that it was a secret only known to me, the faulty logic being that there was no way that I could get hurt if I did not say the words. Of course, the downside of that strategy was that I often was misjudged as being aloof, cold and distant (even though, below the cool surface of things, nothing was further from my truth) there was no opening for me to experience the joy of loving and being loved in return.

After months of feeling on the outside during an intensive workshop, and with a giant shove from a kind friend, I literally made an announcement that I was open to love.  I decided to love big and to love openly, to say the words and open myself up wide. It is all still so new and I often feel like a puppy who hasn’t grown into her body, I feel all sharp elbows and wobbly legs, bumbling my way through connecting and through loving.

I stumble over my words, maybe I say too much too soon, share too much, in my earnest attempt to start with my heart and arms wide open. Like everyone else, I want to thrive in the company of those around me, and at the root I am that little girl who wants nothing more than to be loved.

If you really knew me you would know that I find myself struggling not to love in silence or to push away connection. I am struggling with how to not allow myself to be pushed away. Though everyone wants to be love, not everyone is on board with the way that I love. Not everyone is comfortable with my awkward expressions. Sometimes I feel like I am just too much or maybe not enough and that something I did or said caused them to retreat, to pull away and I am left wondering is it how I love? Will I ever get it right? I am left wanting to retreat myself, to pull it all back, to go back into the mode of keeping it all to myself. I wonder if I can still fit back into that tiny box which stored my heart for so long.

Then, out of the blue, I am reminded that I am seen and held and loved by friends I have chosen in my life. They continue to show me that they choose to love me. I will meet a friend for brunch or receive a lovely text, a funny email or have a Facebook conversation and I am emboldened to love big and awkwardly and openly again and again and again. I am still re-learning. I am always trying to remember that though not perfect, when my intention is good and pure and there is no way to ever love wrong.


Theory meets Practice

In Uncategorized on June 28, 2011 at 7:43 pm

On Saturday, I went rock climbing for the very first time.

A friend was coming to spend the day with me and couple of days earlier he had mentioned a desire to check out a rock climbing gym before coming to my house. Two little words jumped out at me:

rock and climbing

I impulsively asked if I could tag along. Rock climbing was one of those things that I had always wanted to try. Matter of fact, it was number 23 on my life list so when he said those two little words,  I jumped at the chance, and as the few days between invitation and execution passed, something slowly dawned on me.

I was going to go ROCK CLIMBING!

I began to frantically look for a way out, my mind grasping for any excuse that would allow me to back out while retaining some level of dignity. To be fair, I did mention that I had never climbed before and I believe the phrase “equal parts excited and terrified” may have been used but that did not stop me from seriously questioning my sanity, wondering how did I manage to get myself into this situation.

Saturday arrived along with a belly brimming with butterflies. As I got closer and closer to checking this item off my list my heart pounded in my chest. (Whose stupid idea was it to have a life list anyway?) I was completely unable to come up with a plausible reason why I no longer wanted to do what it was that I so enthusiastically said that I always wanted to do just a few days before.

Theory meets practice.

In theory, I am an adventurous person but in practice, I was more scared than I knew was possible. In theory, I do not live my life being terribly concerned with how other sees me. In practice, it deeply mattered what my companion thought of me and that was a huge part of why I found myself standing in front of an incredibly tall rock wall.

I am more than a little proud to say that, with some serious encouragement and gentle insistence, I didn’t back out and I did check number 23 off the list. I learned so much about myself as I tentatively climbed up literal and figurative walls but strangely the most memorable moments for me weren’t the big “I conquered my fear” ones but instead these lovely tiny ones that revolve around the way it felt to look into the warm, gentle eyes of another and see this churning mixture of fear, anxiety, excitement and bravery reflected back at me with nothing but kindness and compassion.

In theory, I am the rock.  For the people in my life, for those souls that I love, I am there for them without hesitation. In practice, it is incredibly difficult to let down my guard and completely trust those very same people. Not wanting to be a bother or a burden, I keep my fear to myself.

In theory, I have lived by the story that it is key to have a plan, to have a thought out path to get from here to there and even if it is only by sheer determination, it is imperative to stick to that plan and depend solely on myself to get to the top. In practice, it is much more interesting to stay loose without expectation, to not plan (so much) and anticipate the moment but let to it unfold, and to allow others to encourage me and hold my hand along of the way. Even if I don’t reach the top, the effort is that much sweeter by having been shared.

Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?

In Uncategorized on June 19, 2011 at 8:00 pm

I have been carrying around a line from the Mary Oliver poem, “Have You Ever Tried to Enter the Long Black Branches.”

One of my favorite yoga instructors read a bit of this poem at the end of class and a line has resonated within me for months. It became the title of a blog post that sat unwritten for just as long and today I answered Ms. Oliver’s question with a resounding


Lately, I am breathing deeply, breathing into my body, breathing into home but most importantly, I am breathing into friendship and connection.

There was a time in my life, when I thought I couldn’t make new friends. I lived in a story that said my world would remain tiny because what I had to offer was meager and unimportant. I thought that if I slipped out of the room, no one would notice and there was such sadness in me because more than anything what I wanted was connection and friendship.

Then one day I made a simple phone call.

I had been reading through the archives of blog I had just begun to read and there was this offer for a free portrait session with the blogger. All I had to do was call and arrange a time. I impulsively dialed the number and then there were arrangements, there was a portrait session and now there is this friend. The thing about it was that she was unlike anyone else I had known in my life and I worried that I did not have much to offer in return.  Looking back, I was incredibly intimidated but I wanted connection more than I wanted to run and hide.

The thing about wanting is that wanting makes you vulnerable, it makes the connection matter and sometimes, when something matters, it is so easy to hold back, to hide, for fear that the story of meagerness is true. Sometimes I wonder how she saw me in the beginning but realize that it really doesn’t matter because now we are friends. The beginning don’t matter after awhile because it is the middle, the guts, the heart of the story that holds the promise.

Inspired by that phone call and our deepening connection, I have leapt, I have tossed, I have pushed and shoved myself into many new places and circumstances. Slowly I am prying open the bars around my heart, creating a space large enough to let myself be fully seen and in return I shattered my story and have befriended so many amazing people who I am proud, humble and grateful to call friend. Today, after a phone call with five nurturing souls who have come together expressly to become a soft place to land for one another, I look around and notice that I am no longer breathing just a little, but instead stand with my head thrown back, arms wide open, lungs filling to capacity and claiming this as my life.

So to all of the beautiful souls in my life, to each and every one of you who I have yet to meet and particularly to that friend who asked me to make a phone call and who gives me such gifts, including the sweetest surprise ever

For Valerie from Kate Swoboda on Vimeo.

I humbly say thank you, thank you for seeing me.

Transition in Grace

In Uncategorized on June 6, 2011 at 7:12 pm

I don’t do endings.

I never write to the last page of my journal. I tend to not end toxic relationships, instead choosing to be the one to stay far beyond reason and understanding, until they leave. Sometimes I stop reading a book I really love, putting it aside because…

I simply don’t ever want it to end.

Last fall, I enrolled in an intense 10-month counseling training program at the Interchange Counseling Institute. Having entered the experience with no idea of what to expect, I was at the end, the final weekend, standing stronger, more grounded in who I am, having fallen in love with my body and having opened myself up more than I knew was possible. Now all of that is well and good but it had to end.

Everything ends.

I entered the space with guard up having already begun retreating on an emotional level. My mind already half way gone, I positioned myself near the door and tensely waited for the end. I did not know it at the time but I longed for closure. If you would have asked me on Saturday if that was what I was hoping for I would have told you no. I would have said I was ready for it to be over, I was ready to move on to the next experience, the next thing. Sure, sure, it was life changing, and ground shifting, sending tremors through my life, changing me like no other experience ever has. I would have admitted that freely but I couldn’t have claimed my need for closure because I did not leave a crack wide enough to know what I truly needed.

But the funny thing is that my heart knew better. It allowed me to look around at the room, at the faces that I have cried with and laughed with and felt incredibly awkward with. The arms that hugged and held me, the bodies that supported me, the smiles and genuineness that welcomed me in without reservation and much to my surprise I discovered that there is incredible power in fully embracing the experience when it is time to leave.

Early leave taking was, for me, about protecting myself from “the hurt.” Growing up as a military kid, there were always endings, someone was always moving and I did not have any way to transition with grace so I decided to not transition at all. I learned to retreat back into my own world before “the hurt” swallowed me whole.

I have not been swallowed whole but I have been made whole. Yesterday’s ending was so incredibly lovely. My ever softening heart took in these beautiful faces I have grown to love as we appreciated each other one by one, as we held hands and hugged and full on acknowledged that what we had all had part in creating was at it’s natural and inevitable end. We did it and then it was simply over. We left the space together and had a group dinner, all of us happily wedged into this tiny Ethiopian restaurant, laughing, breaking bread and then one by one, people said their goodbyes and left and it was done.

The end.

Make New Friends and Keep the Old

In Uncategorized on June 3, 2011 at 7:35 pm

So I think that I have made a new friend…

Well, she isn’t exactly new since she has been in my life for as long as I can remember. When we were younger, I think that we were pretty inseparable, two peas in a pod, all for one and one for all, but somehow, somewhere along the way distance crept in.  Though junior high and high school, dealing new and mysterious hormones, and boys filling up all the space in my mind I allowed my friend to sort of slip away.

Honestly, and I hate to admit it, but I did not even notice and I really did not miss her that much. She was always around, always on the periphery (she is much more loyal and committed than I probably deserve), always supporting me in the small ways that I would allow but we were definitely not close. We were acquaintances but I surely won’t claim that we were friends. That is until recently. Recently, I got back in touch with her. I can’t say that there was one specific thing that brought us back to one another but the moment I saw her, I mean really saw her, I realized how much I had missed her and promised us both to cherish the relationship and give it the time and energy and focus that it deserved.

This old friend… it is my body.

My word for 2011 is home. The word chose me, mostly out of self preservation, as I had been doing too much, taking on too much, traveling, studying, creating a business, creating a beautiful but overwhelming life. Inhabiting the word home has proved to be a way to slow down, to integrate, to sink into each moment and to breathe. Six months into the year and into the word, I find that it is more deeply rooted and all about reconnecting to my body, my temple, my home.

At the moment, we are really just at the threshold, the beginning of our reintroduction. Neither of us are the same as we were when we would earn Girl Scout badges or jump on the bike to get lost in daylong summer adventures or when we put on that royal blue sparkling sequined tutu and danced onstage. We are both a bit older, we are both a bit slower, but like the old days we easily slip back into being inseparable, two peas in a pod and it has been magic getting to know one another. I am diving into her, asking questions and remaining patient as I listen for answers and opening to all that I am discovering.

So far? I see that she is happiest when she is vegan (who knew?), she currently loves middle eastern music and learning to shimmy in our new belly dance class.  She sinks into yoga like nothing else and fills her soul from the quiet solitude of meditation. She adores a physical challenge but can complain and worry in the face of something new. She always finds that she is much stronger than she give herself credit for. Her daily uniform often includes clunky big black boots (preferably with a dress) and she never feels more feminine than when she has just gotten a haircut that is just a tad too short.

There is much to catch up on and much to discover about my old, steadfast and reliable friend. With her back, front and center in my life, I plan on growing old with her and as we age, as we continue to change and evolve this friendship will just deepen.  I can only hope that I will be as loyal and loving a friend to her as she has always been to me.

Barley and Broken Glass

In Uncategorized on May 23, 2011 at 6:11 pm

Sometimes I say that I am a different version of the myself and it feels deeply true as evidenced by an encounter with barley and broken glass showed me.

This morning, as I was making my favorite breakfast of oatmeal with the sweetest, freshest berries picked from my neighbor’s garden, I went into the cupboard to grab the mason jar filled with raisins. My mind was filtering, scanning, skimming all sorts of things… in other words I was really not paying much attention to the task in front of me. I turned toward the counter and heard this thud and then the shattering of glass as a small jar of barley crashed on to my kitchen floor. As I turned toward the sound, as I look down at the mess, in the split second, the tiny, tiny second between the action and the reaction I saw the fork in the road.

One direction would lead me down the path that began with words like “You stupid idiot,  how did you let this happen?” “Look at this mess, what is wrong with you.”

The other direction would lead me down a path that began with words like, “Are you ok?” “Be careful of the glass.” “Go and grab some shoes and then we can clean this up in no time.” In that split second I chose to follow the gentle, less worn path.

So this nurturing voice  guided me to a pair of shoes and together we returned to the broken shards and bits of barley sprawled everywhere. We shook out the rug, we moved the recycling and the trash can out of the way and we grabbed the broom. All the while she was talking to me in hushed tones saying those nurturing, nourishing, self-loving things,

“It is ok, you did not lose anything of any importance.”


“You are ok. Just a silly bump in the road.”


“You are human and sometimes things happen that you can’t control. It doesn’t mean anything. A jar broke and barley was spilled, nothing more and nothing less.”

We scooped up the big pieces and listened to the tingle of the glass as it clamored into the recycling, we swept the floor twice (she insisted on twice as she gently reminded me that I am usually in stocking feet around the cottage). In five minutes time, the mess was gone, the delicious oatmeal was ready and all was right in my the world.

Today’s barley and broken glass reminded me of this serious conversation I found myself in with a friend of mine, in which I said to her “If it ever comes down to taking care of you or taking care of me, I will take care of me.” I have no idea how we had ended up there but I do remember that she bristled at my statement with words echoing distant childhood accusations of being called selfish. At the time, I rationalized my statement by saying that if I am taking care of you and you are taking care of you, who is looking out for me?

Today, amidst a mess of broken glass, I was reminded of who is looking out for me and I felt so grateful and apparently I am on the right path.

As I Surrender

In Uncategorized on April 7, 2011 at 3:10 pm

words wash over me

“Let yourself feel the ouches that arise in your heart. Let yourself feel them and give them your love and attention.”

i rise up for air, gulping, gasping, reaching for where the shore used to be

“It is love and attention that softens them.”

before the next wave, the next words, pushes me back under

“It’s a way of blessing yourself, of blessing the life that flows through you.”

i struggle for control only to realize it was all an illusion,

the comfort,

the control…

“You’re saying, in so many words, it’s okay. I love all of me. Sh-sh- you’re safe. You’re safe here, in my heart. In my love.” ~Karly Randolph Pitman

as i surrender, going under for one last time.


This quote came to me innocently wrapped in a daily inspirational email and it shook my soul. Quoting John Tarrant, the author also wrote, “Attention is the most basic form of love; through it we bless and are blessed.”

It makes me wonder what have I been loving and blessing with my attention lately?

Not Swept Away

In Uncategorized on March 11, 2011 at 4:53 pm

Today I sit in the middle of a serious emotional flashback.

I woke up, like the rest of the world, to hear the devastating news of the 8.9 earthquake that hit Japan. Living in California, a stone’s throw away from a fault line or two, there are no words to encompass everything that churned inside of me as I heard the news unfold.  Then it hit me, an earthquake half way around the world was triggering tsunami warnings up and down the west coast.

Living in Oakland and working in San Francisco, put me in the warning zone and instantly I was taken back to August 24, 1992 and the hurricane that I lived through, the day that changed EVERYTHING in my life.

Infrared image of Andrew making landfall in Florida


It was all too familiar. A beautiful clear day and thousands of miles of away there was something coming my way that I could not stop and I could not avoid. As the waves began to hit Hawaii,  the local news stated that there was probably nothing to worry about. There was no evacuation order issued for where I live but I couldn’t bring myself to leave my house so I hung out at home a bit longer, waiting out the warning.

My heart weeps for the people in Japan who are trying to get to safety, who are trying to comprehend the day that will change everything. I know, first hand, what they face in terms of rebuilding their lives, their homes, their sense of security. Even though my day remained beautiful and I was spared, I sit in the emotion of the day and try not to let it sweep me away.

Scenes from a Weekend: The Plunge Edition

In Uncategorized on February 17, 2011 at 11:07 am

Last Saturday I was lucky enough to experience The Plunge One Day Retreat lead by Karen Maezen Miller. The retreat took place on a picture perfect California day at the Asilomar Retreat Center on the edge of Pacific Ocean.

Unknowingly, before she even began, she took away from me one of my favorite ways to keep myself at arms distance, to stay on the edges… taking notes. In the materials she sent out she mentioned that there would be no need for paper and pen, instead we would simply be present with whatever happened.

In the loveliness of the day there was this.






the breath spiritualized what is happening right now.

no judgment


things change.

forgiveness is peace.

peace is practice.

love is attention.

attention is breath.

letting go is faith.

faith is patience.

trust your life.

Trust your life, indeed.

Today, you can find me over here

In Inspiration on February 11, 2011 at 10:53 am

It is my great pleasure to have written a guest post for the blog of one of my favorite people.

Talk about inspiration…my friend Vivienne McMaster, sweet soul and goddess of photographic self-portraiture, is in the midst of a 14 day self love fest. If you haven’t joined her in the celebration of all things you, I suggest you check it out because who better to celebrate than YOU?