Be like water: Fluid, reflective and always tending towards stillness

As you may or may not know, every year I pick a theme to reflect upon. This year’s theme-  Be like water: Fluid, reflective and always tending towards stillness- seemed like a very poetic thing to pick for the year. I envisioned the calm waters of a river that Thomas Kincaid would paint in one of his masterpieces.

 

This vision of peace was challenged a few months ago while I was sitting in church. While I was rapt in the message of the sermon, I saw something out of the corner of my eye. It was real subtle. I wasn’t quite sure that I saw what I saw. And then I saw it again. I looked over my left shoulder and made eye contact with my neighbor. Then we both simultaneously looked up. The roof was leaking.

 

Water is not just reflective; water is revealing. Had it not been for the rain we would not have known that there were vulnerabilities in the structure of the roof. That is kinda how life is. We all go through different seasons where the elements of that time period exposes something that had been silently festering in the dark alcoves of our lives.

 

Once, I left a banana in one of my purses that I rarely use. For the longest time I could not figure out why I had this horrible infestations of gnats in my room. And then I found the most disgusting banana in my life. I get it. Life is a little bit more serious than bananas and gnats. It could be the person in your life that offended you. When they suddenly return back into your life you realize that you have been harboring unforgiveness and lingering hurt. Maybe you have been getting away with something that has now come back to bite you. Rainy seasons in life expose deficiencies in our lives

 

The good news is that the rain reveals something that you can fix. Nobody is perfect so we all need maintenance every now and then. So a little bit of rain in your life can help you see the snafus that can be repaired.

 

But then again… sometimes floods can reveal very complex problems that are not easily fixed. I finally got around to watching Spike Lee’s “When the Levees Broke”. First of all, that is the most profound documentary of the entire century. The documentary took an in-depth look at how our nation failed some of the most vulnerable citizens before and long after Hurricane Katrina swept through New Orleans.

 

Water is fluid and powerful.

 

Water is always tending towards stillness. Water can also force you towards stillness. When I was in DC over the summer I observed some of the craziest things. It would be a beautiful perfect day one minute, rain like it is a category 3 storm for 30 minutes, and then it would go back to being a perfect day again. It took me a while to learn that the rain wouldn’t last for long. A very common practice was for people to just take shelter under the nearest makeshift canopy or Starbucks and just wait. And wait. Sometimes for 10 minutes. Sometimes much longer.

 

Water can force you towards stillness. How many times have you forgone plans because the rain started to drop from the sky? How many times have you turned the T.V. down just a little bit just so you can let the cathartic rhythm of the rain hitting the window pane? How often have you lingered just a little bit longer with someone just because it was raining outside? How many times have you stopped just to stare at the expansiveness in awe of the ocean?

 

‘Water is tending’ means that water is always working with some intention (towards stillness).Water is always works in some of the most understated ways. I believe of the physical and emotional healing power of water. I once burned my hand and found immediate relief in the running water of a faucet. It provides life and growth to every organism on this Earth. Water is key element in many ancestral and indigenous rites of passage. A deluge of water is often the first sign that a baby is ready to leave the mother’s womb. Water baptizes the soul from one state to another more enlightened spiritual state. Water cleanses. Water rejuvenates.

 

I still like the quote Be like water: Fluid, reflective and always tending towards stillness. But, I don’t see the quote in the same way.  (Even Socrates once said that you cannot step in the same river twice). Water is so much more than being fluid, reflective and tending towards stillness. Being like water is embracing the fullness of life and all of that it encompasses. It’s embracing the power of a flood and the peace of the river.

 

As always, I love hearing from you. How are you doing? What has changed in your life? What is consistent in your life? Do you have any good recipes? Do you have any good music recommendations?

The Things You Carry

I picked a random story out of a Chicken Soup for the Soul book a few years ago. It was a compilation of things people told nurses as they spent their final days on their death beds. While some things were funny, other things disheartening, one thing stood out to me. “If I could do it over again, I wish I would have traveled lighter.”

 

My suitcase traveled over 11,000 miles this summer. From San Francisco, to Los Angeles, to Washington DC, to Los Angeles, to Honolulu, to Los Angeles, to Toledo, to Houston, to San  Francisco. I traveled with 2 huge suitcases, a carry-on, and a plethora of things that I bought and/ or had to ship back home along the way. I wish I would have traveled lighter.

 

I have so much stuff *cough* junk. When I was little my dad would make me and my brothers purge all of our toys, clothes, and stuff that we didn’t use. Of course, I thought I needed it all. I usually had 2-3x more stuff than both my brothers. As an adult, I moved from my parent’s house to Pentland Hills, to my parent’s house, to Glen Mor, back to my parent’s house, back to Glen Mor, back to my parent’s house, to the in-law suite in San Francisco, to an apartment in San Francisco. I always had more stuff than what the space was intended to hold. It never made sense how much stuff I had and how much of an effort it took to move all of that stuff. I wish I would have traveled lighter.

 

I used to hold grudges and be hostile towards people for the longest time. I wish I would have traveled lighter.

 

This is the part where I tell you all of the emotional and personal things that go through my head. I’m going to pass. I wish I could travel lighter.

 

I keep a book where I write random sayings that may end up being the topic of one of these emails. I came across something I wrote: How To Shed The Weight You Can’t Lose.

 

We are all familiar with the Biggest Loser. The show takes 15 contestants and cuts them off from all family and friends; they get yelled at and demeaned by Jillian Michaels, and they are given access to the best nutritionist and health care providers. They generally lose a lot of weight, and they go home and are supposed to live happily ever after. I came across a study done on all of the contestants years after they had left the show. Most people gained all of their weight back (if not more), a few former contestants kept most of the weight off, and only one person lost weight after the show stopped airing.

 

It is not easy shedding the things that you carry. The physical and emotional, the good stuff and the bad stuff, the things that make you stronger and the things that are slowly killing you, the past that holds you back and the future that gives you anxiety all represent or are the manifestation of some part of your being.

 

One of my favorite books, The Things They Carry by Tim O’Brien, is an excellent piece of art that touches upon the psyche of why we carry the things that we carry. It delves deeper as to what those items represent, whether or not the beholder understands the item’s impact. The 3rd person narrative navigates between each of the character’s past, present, and future to reveal the gravity (good and bad) of each person’s ornaments and elements. It shows that not everything we carry is physical. Not everything we carry can be seen by other people. But everything we carry is a part of who we are. There is no preachy message about getting rid of some things and holding on to other things. Life just is. We all carry some things.

 

My faith has taught me that sometimes you lay your burdens down, and sometimes you carry your cross. Only time will give you the wisdom to discern what are burdens and what your crosses. I think it is a tragedy that the Serenity Prayer has become a cliche. I think my life would be profoundly different if I not only believed, but lived with, God grant[ing] me the serenity to accept[ing] the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

 

Traveling through life lighter is the nexus of the things we carry and the things we let go of. Some burdens and bad habits are easy to get rid of. Those burdens may have been the product of the stupidity or immaturity of your youth. It may have been the result of an intention to get something better in life something had to be released from your life.

 

It has taken me 20 years to finally start getting rid of the excess in many different ways. I don’t know how many of my letters have components dedicated to talking about me and my junk. This will probably be my lifelong problem for me.  I’m just trying to move through this world a little bit lighter.

 

This is why I write these letters every month. It reminds me to stay humble, to stay grateful, and it helps me move through this world a little bit lighter. Plus it is cheaper than therapy.

 

I love to hear from you! I wrote this long letter about me and all my stuff you can find here.

 

Until next month,

Brianna

The Opposite of Loneliness

Hello Family and Friends,

 

A while back I heard about this book, The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan, that had been published after she had died in a car accident at age 22. I stumbled across her book while perusing the selection of literature at Politics and Prose (one of the many reasons why I love DC!). The book commences with an essay, The Opposite of Loneliness, that was written for the school newspaper to encourage fellow graduates that life only gets better from here.

 

We don’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if we did, I could say that’s what I want in life…. It’s not quite love and it’s not quite community; it’s just this feeling that there are people, an abundance of people, who are in this together. Who are on your team. When the check is paid and you stay at the table. When it’s four a.m. and no one goes to bed. That night with the guitar. That night we can’t remember. That time we did, we went, we saw, we laughed, we felt.

 

This summer I had the amazing opportunity to stop everything else in my life and move to Washington DC for 2 months for an internship.I’ve had an amazing experience so far; re-connecting with friends I haven’t seen in many years, finding beautiful spirits in strangers, and exploring new places. From trying to make sense of the Metro system to figuring out basic survival (where I’m going to live, how I’m going to eat and whose numbers I should memorize just in case I get into an emergency while I’m out here), I’ve come to realize that the most perplexing enigmas are the ones that are within myself.

I know this sounds weird, but I never had to deal with my own thoughts and sense of placement so intensely. At home, it is so easy to get caught up in the routines of life. My thoughts are tethered to: my ‘to-do’ list, making sense of the place I just left,  making sense of the thing that I just did, or my thoughts about how to save the world. But here, in this bursting metropolis, I’ve found an inner stillness as I go from museums to monuments.

I was just thinking about the time when I first moved to San Francisco. A person once asked me, “What are you running from?” I’ll be the 1st to admit that I’m pretty lame. I have nothing interesting to run from. (If I did have anything to run from I would probably prefer to stay in those shenanigans). I don’t even like running. And that person annoyed me because it was such a cliche thing to say when a person moves. WOW! Don’t you think you’re Mr. Insightful now that you asked a stupid cliche? Clearly, there was something in that question that touched some part of my spirit because I’m still thinking about it 5 years later.

So, I think I finally have the answer. The answer began forming a couple of years ago when I visited my father’s side of the family in Toledo. I see the answer when I look at my friends in San Francisco, and Washington DC, and when I get an email from a friend from Colombia.

I’m not running from anything, but I’m exploring all of the physical manifestation of “home” through all the people that I encounter and places that I go. I was blessed to be born into a family that loves hard… and fights hard. I was nurtured in such a way that I can recognize love and connection that feels as genuine as game night. And game night is real. Game night, movie night, and long arguments about absolutely nothing is home. I’m not running from home; I’m finding home in all the places that God has placed it.

I found that I am always emotionally and physically- literally and figuratively- moving towards a home base. A beacon. The Northstar. A Target store. Yes, there are times when I feel lonely or think that I just had an experience that would have been better had there been another person with me. You know the old saying ‘being lonely in a crowded room’ feeling. It is still fundamentally different from not being in the state of the opposite of loneliness. If that makes sense. Read it again a couple of times. It probably may make sense. It probably won’t.

My state of being in the opposite of loneliness is you.It’s knowing that you are out there. That you support me- even just by reading this- and I’m always cheering for you. I may not see you all the time (*cough* I would love to get an email from you every once in awhile *cough*). It’s that every month I stop to think about what I’m grateful for it’s always some variation on some experience that leads me back to you.

So, popular consensus has told me that my letters are too long. I’m going to wrap it up right…now.

 

Sincerely,

Brianna

Something Beautiful

Hello Family and Friends,

 

As some of you may know, each month I send out an email to all of you about something that has been on my mind. This monthly expression of gratitude was inspired by my niece’s and nephew’s “Best of 2K14” list. Before the close 2014, they wrote out a list of all that was good in their life; I, on the other hand, was thinking of all the things I wanted to fix and make better in 2015. Their moment of gratitude and reflection profoundly touched me and inspired me to clutter your inbox once a month.

Cool Flower.JPG

( You can find the exact same letter here (https://sway.com/HrXZrAZqX7ms7Kvt) with recent pictures I took from SF Botanical Gardens)

 

I try to keep each letter linked to this year’s theme: Be like water: Fluid, reflective and always tending towards stillness. I didn’t have much to write about this month, so I decided to share the lyrics of “Something Beautiful” by NeedToBreathe.  

 

In your ocean, I’m ankle deep/ I feel the waves crashin’ on my feet/ It’s like I know where I need to be/ But I can’t figure out, yeah I can’t figure out

Just as there is no clear defining point where the land ends and the ocean begins, there is no clear defining point as we transition from one state of self to another. For instance, I’m not sure of the exact moment when I became an adult (and I’m pretty sure that I’m an adult now) because I know it didn’t immediately happen the day I turned 18. Maybe I have been fooled to believe that there is a rigid dichotomy between “State of Being A” and “State of Being B”. Perhaps, being grounded and rooted in a firm foundation is not  mutually exclusive from being swept away with dreams, hopes, and aspirations.

 

Just how much air I will need to breathe/ When your tide rushes over me/ There’s only one way to figure out/ Will ya let me drown, will ya let me drown

I like plans. I like lists. I like schedules. I like a maximum of 48 hours of vacation away from plans, lists and schedules before being without plans, list and schedules scare me. Of course, sometimes all of that is necessary. Other times it’s an anchor holding me back. For you, it may not be plans, lists and schedules, but it may be something else. Can you recognize your safety blanket.  How do you let go of  trying to control life and letting all of its uncertainties overwhelm you with new possibilities? (In “Christian-ese” what areas of your life are the manifestations of having  “let go and let God”?) I love the line “Just how much air will I need to breath?” I understand it as as important  as air is, you only need just enough. “Air” is the stuff we can control. The “tide” is the good, the bad, the unexpected. The stuff that makes you cry, doubt, and laugh until it hurts. Tides come and go with variable strengths- pushing and pulling your life- determine by the natural rhythms of Earth.

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And the water is risin’ quick/ And for years I was scared of it/ We can’t be sure when it will subside/ So I won’t leave your side, no I can’t leave your side

The tattoo on my foot says, “Where Faith is fear isn’t”. I’m not saying I never doubt anything in life. I’m just saying that I always have faith that when the troubles and hardships come I will get through them, relatively intact, eventually.

 

In a daydream, I couldn’t live like this/ I wouldn’t stop until I found something beautiful/ When I wake up, I know I will have/ No, I still won’t have what I need

What is it that you truly desire? Not a $15 million dollar home. Not a porsche. What is it that your soul truly yearns for? That gentle whisper that motivates so many of your decisions. I don’t think the writers of this song intended “something beautiful” as something tangible. I was just thinking to myself how lucky I am to be surrounded by people I love. There is no malice or ill-will. Yes, there are disagreements, hurt feelings, and disappointments every so often. But, there is not a single toxic person in my life. I rejoice when you rejoice. Many of you celebrate when I celebrate. I may not always be the kindest person to you, but I do feel awful when I think (or know) I’ve hurt your feelings. How lucky I am to have full agency and hope for the future and gratitude for the moment. Now, isn’t that something beautiful.

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Hey now, this is my desire/ Consume me like a fire, ’cause I just want something beautiful/ To touch me, I know that I’m in reach/ ‘Cause I am down on my knees, I’m waiting for something beautiful/ Oh, something beautiful

I’m curious. What does this last stanza mean to you?

 

So this letter is getting on the long side, so I’m just going to end it here. As always, this is my way of staying in touch with you. It really and truly does mean something to me when I see an email from you. It also really and truly means something to me to know you read it even if you don’t respond all of the time. Also, you can find previous letters here: fearwaslastseason.wordpress.com
Brianna

User Manual

Dear Family and Friends,

Every month I write a letter about something that has been on my mind. It’s mostly for my own therapeutic reasons. The only reason I send it to you is so that I would stay accountable to writing every month. And, I hope if we haven’t seen each other in a while I hope you will feel so compelled to reply back and let me know how you are doing.

(For a version that is easier to read and has some pictures from my most recent hiking trip, click here: sway.com/FbjY05rG0x6ljcif)

A few days ago I wrote a thank you letter to one of my community college professors, Dr. Toebe, for a very kind thing she did. She had written a very sincere and touching letter of recommendation on my behalf so I could get into the nurse practitioner program. She inspired my thoughts this month about how life does come with a user manual; however, it’s blank, and you have the pen. My proverbial user manual is filled with 5 things I choose to ALWAYS do when I am faced with either indecision or conflict.

 
Whenever I have to make some decision about which path to choose, I always pick the option that meets certain criteria. This is my list of criteria that ALWAYS have to be met when I make potentially life altering choices. FYI, “life altering” can be as simple as “Should I dedicate a significant amount of time to this situation?” or, “This person is irking the heck out of me. How should I deal with them?” 
 

When someone offers you something that is not being offered to anyone else- ALWAYS take it. A few years ago, me and about 10 other students were trying to get into a microbiology class. I went to the professor, Dr. Toebe, and told her the reason I really really needed to get into her class that quarter. I’m sure it was the same reason (this class was a prerequisite for many other classes and programs) that the 10 other students had. But, I thought I was super special, and she would see how I was so different from everyone else and she would just let me into the class. She said she wasn’t going to let me into the class, but she would allow me to enroll in the Monday/ Wednesday class that was already full. The timing was an inconvenience, but something told me I should adjust my schedule to make it to that class. To make a long story short, I’m still reaping the benefits from taking that offer. 

The point is, all things being equal, go for opportunities that  were made just for you. I’m not talking about the deal that will be gone in the next 60 seconds or the same pitch that gets used on everyone. I’m talking about the offers that may not look very appeasing but have been created specially for your needs.

Favorite Quote: Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.

 

ALWAYS choose vision over sight. Choosing vision over sight means that when you are not where you want to be in life it just means that you just haven’t gotten to where you want to be yet. Huh? For instance, I’m trying to be a multi-millionaire. That’s the vision. My sight shows a very low bank account balance, a very high loan repayment to Sally Mae (i.e. student loans), and the inability to work full time because I’m choosing to stay in school.

Having vision over sight means just figuring out what you want in life and just going for it.  There are millions of things in the now that will discourage you from whatever it is that you are going for. Either you will get to the goal, or something that fulfills the same emotional need will replace the goal.I look back and can name 2 handful worth of things that worked themselves out in my favor despite the fact that it shouldn’t have. I also had major things in my life that didn’t workout, yet I still ultimately got to the goal or something better that I could not foresee.

Favorite Quote: Your goals change and adjust, but you purpose will always supersede.

 
ALWAYS let what you need outweigh what you want. I tend to rely on this touchstone when I’m dealing with matters of relationships. I know when you are reading this that you think I’m always reflective and nice and thoughtful (well, some of you probably know better). Truth is, some people really irk me and I will let them know it. Last year I had a roommate situation that was not positive. I learned a lot from that situation… maybe I’ll write a letter about it one day… and I’m still learning from that situation. The short story was that I wanted her to leave my apartment, but I needed her to pay rent. Why couldn’t I have had both? During the 5.5 months of tumultuous living together, I learned a lot about how I handle conflict (and it is not too pretty). Now that I have seen the errors of my ways, I’ve learned that what you want may be immediate, but what you need often is coupled with maturity/ patience/ discipline/ integrity/ justice/ being accountable/ being transparent/ and wisdom. None of that is easy. I think that is why we often forgo what we need in order to get what want (which tends to be easier and doesn’t challenge you to grow). For instance, in that roommate situation, I wanted to be right and have my way (just as she did) but I really needed peace in my home (which I’m sure she wanted as well).
 

ALWAYS move towards stillness. Stillness to me means what feels right to my soul. It has absolutely nothing to do with choosing the safe option or the boring option or the option where I’m physically still. I’m learning to discern between the feeling of I’m nervous because I’ve never done something before and what truly doesn’t feel right to me.

Also, you have to move. I try to be very intentional about life. In some areas it’s working out well, and some areas of my life needs a lot more work. C’est la vie.

 
ALWAYS assume there will be abundance. I know I have shared the story about my friend, Linda. One week we are lamenting that we are broke and the next we are trying to figure out if it we should go to Cuba or not. She went. I didn’t. I had other obligations, but I would have gone if being broke was the only reason holding me back. I would have found a way. Whenever I’m torn, I ask myself what am I afraid; my biggest fear is the lack of provision after living with the consequence of that choice. If my fears are rooted in some type of possibility of a deficit then I will acknowledge that those fears are real and I will go for it anyways. Its kind of like the question, “What would you do if money wasn’t an option?” My question is, “If fear wasn’t holding you back, would you still do this?”
 
I also assume there is an abundance of everything that I need in this world. Sometimes when I get down in life, I have to remind myself that the providence of God is abundant and will always be available when I need it the most. I also have an abundance of internal and external stuff to sufficiently get me through life and more than enough to give away to others.

The more I write, the more I seem like a weirdo who has to talk to herself and I give myself pep talks. I write these long letters. So, I’m just going to end the madness right now. I hope to hear from you soon.

When Cows Get in your Way

Hello Family and Friends,​

As many of you know, every month I write a letter to you all on something that has been on my mind. It’s my pseudo therapy/ way to stay connected to you. I’ve picked a theme for 2016 (Be like water- fluid, reflective, and always tending towards stillness) and I will reflect on that for the rest of year through these letters.

 

Today’s letter is about being fluid when approaching problems in life.

 

A couple of weeks ago, my friend Cassandra and I went hiking in San Ramon. Las Trampas Regional Wilderness is one of the most beautiful trails I have ever hiked on. Think of rolling green hills with occasional cows and farm houses. The verdure continuously rolls on and on and on until it turns into beautiful blue skies and fluffy white clouds.

 

Cassandra and I were part of a larger group of of hikers. We arrived a little later than everyone else, but we were passing other people in the group like we were on a mission. We were going at a really steady pace until a herd of cows got in the way.

 

Imagine 10 people waiting for 3 momma cows and 3 baby cows to finish feeding. We are on a narrow road. To the left is a downhill mess of shrubs possibly with poison oak and poisonous critters. To the right- a cliff.

 

After 30 minutes of the group trying to figure out how to get around the cows, I realized this is the way people approach problems.

 

  • Some people become paralyzed by their problems. Before Cassandra and I were unexpectedly stopped by cows, there had been other people in the group just waiting for the cows to move. The saying goes, “when nothing works, do nothing”. And nothing they did. Not doing something when you are unsure of how to conquer your problems sometimes is the best thing to do. A good plan is often necessary instead of being cavalier in facing tough problems. The danger in waiting is that it can be an indefinite abide in the long abyss of doing nothing. Even worse, some people will  accept that the problem is no longer a problem and just an element of life.
  • Some people try to minimize the problem. Some people in the group decided it would be best to blow whistles, make noise, and wave our arms in the air. Yes, it sounds stupid now. We thought we would scare the cows out of our way.
  • Some people try to go back. One person suggested that we go back the opposite way. Go back 3.5 miles up and down rolling hills? Nope, not happening. Who is to say there weren’t more cows blocking the path in the opposite direction? Going back is not always possible or sagacious. People often forget the enormity of the challenges they faced in the past because all of the emotion and drama surrounding those problems has faded. They don’t realize the strength they gained from overcoming those problems has made them stronger, smarter, wiser now.
  • Some people refuse to acknowledge the problem. One person thought he could go through the herd of cows and act like they aren’t really a problem. Clearly he lacked the same acumen that the rest of the group had. He changed his mind real quick when one cow gave him the death stare when he got a little too close. We all know someone (none of you who I’m emailing of course) who has blatant issues in their life and refuse to acknowledge it. They continuously go through drama, trifling people, lack of discipline, carelessness, or whatever you can think of that causes strife; and, they don’t acknowledge the deficit it causes in their life.
  • Some people try to take a chance at an unbeaten path. While the rest of of the group was trying to figure out what to do, Cassandra was in the bushes and shrubs trying to find an alternative route. I wouldn’t have done that, but I figured that I probably would have had to follow her because she was my ride back home. She ended up climbing this ledge past the cows. We all followed like little ducklings behind their momma to freedom. Sometimes you have to be brave and do something out of character. More importantly, you have to be secure enough to accept the consequences if it doesn’t always work out the way you planned. Quit your job and become a freelancer. Start the company you have dreamed about. Adopt kids. Dye your hair blue and get the eyebrow piercing you always wanted. Yes there are risk, but the reward is that you dared to live life on your earn terms.  
  • Some problems are not meant to be solved alone. We all had some ideas on how to get past the cows; some were better than others… and 1 worked out to be the best solution. I personally don’t believe that any approach to the cows of life is wrong. Sometimes you have the answer, and sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you are the solution to another person’s problem.
  • Sometimes you are the problem- not the cows. Now, those cows were minding their own business, in their own home, not bothering anybody. We intruded on them. Sometimes we have to change our perspective on the problem and figure out our own role in the problem. The Universe is not out to get you; however, you may be self-sabotaging your situation and not even know it. Take a moment and be reflective like water.