Growing out of the Ashes

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We left early in the morning for Sequoia National Park last Tuesday.  I woke up excited for an adventure—a new place, lots of rocks, big trees, and people I love to share life with. I showered, put on in-the-car clothes, double-checked my suitcase for hiking boots, warm socks, an iPhone charger, and sunscreen. We had booked the trip a couple of months prior—my uncle and I debated dates and national parks on the Facebook messenger app ( I’ve found it secretly amusing for years that Facebook is our primary form of communication). When he initially asked if I would be able to join him and my Aunt in Sequoia, an intoxicating joy shot through me— an appreciation for a healthy life that I can’t imagine will ever find its way to evaporation.

“I CAN. ”

After a couple of years of  “I cannot,” “No,” “sorry I have to cancel. I’m too sick,” few words feel more exhilarating to say than, “hell yes, I can. Count me in.” I can walk. I can plan ahead. I can manage the altitude. I can hike. I can do long car rides. I can sleep in a hotel. I can eat some “bad” foods. I can wake up early. I can push it. I can join. I am able.

And how grateful I am that I could be inside of such a marvel of a national park—a park where the largest tree on planet Earth stands both humble and impressive as fuck. I had a feeling a blog post would come out of the trip—I assumed I would end up shamelessly celebrating my ability to climb on top of big rocks in my “fashionably sensitive but too cool to care” hiking attire.

Exhibit A and B:

 

I couldn’t help myself.

But, truth be told, that’s not at all what this post is about. This post, as it turns out, was birthed as I walked through a touristy museum in the park appropriately named, “Giant Forest Museum.” A museum that I was— admittedly— dreading going to. I was hoping for a quick stop to satisfy my Aunt and Uncle. Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t care too much for foliage. I mean it looks nice and I love Mother Nature and the abundant gifts she offers that I too often take for granted. I love to pause and appreciate the majesty of it all, but that is different from walking through a fucking museum where I could just as well open up an “S” encyclopedia and sit in a corner and read about the Sequoia for an hour. The name, where the name is derived, where it grows, why it’s so special BLAH BLAH BLAH. Is there something for me to climb on? I’m missing the world outside. The sun is shinging and we are in here…looking at dioramas of trees.  I know, it’s a shameful, embarrassing admission for a crunchy liberal, but in keeping with my value of balls-out-honesty, there it is. You will NEVER catch me on a park ranger tour unless I’m promised to see adrenaline-inducing wildlife (this is why I have adrenal fatigue).

Whether it’s due to age or illness or ten years of attempting a solid meditation practice I don’t know, but I am changing. I felt similar at Disney World two years ago when I discovered that Epcot was awesome. Only a boring, sleepy,  non-child thinks Epcot is awesome. And only an adult laced with trauma would determine that “The Giant Forest Museum,” and the Sequoia species are wilder and more exciting and more exhilarating than any rock climbing, jumping out of plane, running down a hill so fast your legs might fall off experience.

Sequoias are magic. Yes, there’s the obvious things like their size and girth. Like the fact that the sequoia named “General Sherman” is the largest living thing on planet Earth today at 275 feet tall and a circumference of 102.6 feet at the base. Looking at the General Sherman is stupefying— standing near it made me feel both like a piece of sand, tiny and insignificant and like a divine entity just as much of a marvel as every other living thing. And while that should probably be enough to produce wild appreciation, respect and honor, it wasn’t what held my attention. What got me were the substantial wounds Sequoias have to endure and heal in order to thrive to such rich heights, reaching their full potential.

A Sequoia needs fire to grow. Flames burn down surrounding trees that are taking sunlight and water that the Sequoia desperately needs—cruel like we know life can be. The fire blazes and burns up the Sequoia, scorching the lower branches consequently  sending down pods full of seeds. The fire clears the brush of leaves and dried up pines atop the dirt, leaving a rich ash soil for Sequoia seeds to grow in. It’s this ash that makes the most hospitable womb for these sacred seeds. (Familiarly, the mother is scarred).

sequoia tree scars

Any mature Sequoia has visible burns on its bark. However, the trees are terrifically built to withstand fire. The bark of the Sequoia is made to be spongy, soft, and fire resistant. There is a protective layer just beneath the outer bark that heals fire wounds. Some trees have been able to live through upwards of 80 fires, healing the wounds every time, becoming all the more magical because of what they survive with such dignity and triumph (ahem: without. even. trying.)  The trees know they already have all they need.

Do you see where I’m going with this my wounded and healing friends?

I thought about my grandfather. He was the sole survivor of a deadly amusement park fire on August 13th, 1944. His scars made him all the more a hero in my eyes. The fire opened his heart the way I imagine seeds fall open from the trees.

More insignificantly, I thought about The Planet of the Apes.. when one ape says to another, “Don’t worry, blue eyes, scars make you strong.” I saw that movie when I was newly sick and held onto that quote. Because I have blue eyes. And because I have scars. And because I have everything I need to heal and transform the wounds. And, I guess because I find a way to make most things about me (like what I just did with the Sequoia).

I thought about #neverthelessshepersisted … because I love an opportunity to think about that. And because it’s powerful as fuck to persist in the face of obstacles.

I thought about illness, grief, heartbreak, joy, death, abuse, injury, and celebration and I thought about the endless ability we have to heal. I thought about how if you opened us up and put us on display (like scientists and medical professionals often do) and/or went to the museum on the South Street Seaport called “Bodies: The Exhibition” then you know that we are equally as magical and awe-inspiring as these magical trees. That we too survive fires— whether literally or figuratively. And all/many/some of us heal and thrive… and, in fact, if you’re like me (and the Sequoia species) then you need the fire to grow to your greatest potential.

Here is the most mature result of what rises up from the ashes:

mature sequoia tree

 

With fun and love and THRIVING BIG,

Jackie

 

 

 

 

 

 

How I Step Into the New Year

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It was hours before midnight, and I was already wasted. Running around in shredded jeans that put my hip bones on display, a tight red, spaghetti- strap shirt that revealed the push- up- bra- boobs of a teenager, and a pair of red sunglasses just to complete the “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” look, I was not making mom and dad proud. The New Years Eve party I attended was at my own house—my parents’ friends, my friends, and my brother’s friends shared the space in one excitable gathering. We had been throwing these parties for years, but that would be our last one—the last time we could pretend to be somewhat functional. Although, I’m not sure we had anyone fooled.  My father was only half present that year, leaving the room every so often to take a hit— an omen for what was to come. The clock was running out on 2003, and I had no resolutions for 2004. I was 15 and lost. All of the vitality I had lived with most of my life was just gone, eaten up by poison. I wanted out, I sought escape every chance I got. Around ten PM, with a red Dixie cup in hand, I sloppily took a stand atop our coffee table. Inspired by the music of The Spice Girls (I had picked out the song), I made a loud, screechy toast, “You know,” I shouted, “people never keep their resolutions… so THIS YEAR, I’m going to make a resolution to drink and be fucked up as much as possible because THAT’S a resolution I know I’ll keep.” Laughing so hard, feeling so clever, I stumbled off the table, found my way to the bathroom and spent the remainder of the night puking my guts up. I missed midnight. Technically, I was off to a good start considering my resolution, right?

While my behavior was graceless and funny/tragic, the statement I think I was trying to make was that I thought resolutions were ineffective. I thought they were silly, I thought we were a bunch of procrastinators, waiting for the symbol of the new year to make changes that we could really make today. Why wait? Once I sobered up—by 18— I woke up everyday with renewed intentions to live my best life, to be my best self, to be brave— to think, speak, and act from my highest self. I fell short often—or always—and started anew the next day. Isn’t life just a series of resolutions in that sense? New year’s resolutions can feel extremely overwhelming and can leave little room for imperfection—they don’t work for me. I do, however,  enjoy the idea of a brand new year, new goals and “starting fresh.” So how could I “start fresh” in a way that worked for me?

In 2011, I was living in Hawaii. I was angry—angry at Hawaii, angry at other people for making shitty decisions in their own lives, angry at myself for falling short. I sat in front of a camp fire on Uluwalu, a beach with cabins and tents set with maybe 50 of us celebrating together, waiting to kick off 2012. The fire burned bright, candles lit up pathways on the sand, the ocean crashed on the shore, and my hair moved with the breeze as I sat deep in thought.  I looked up at a man I had spent most of the year pissed off at. He had insulted me six months earlier and I had yet to let it go. What a waste, I thought “I’ve wasted so much energy being angry at that one man, what if I just make a decision to let go of my resentments from 2011, right here, right now? Do I really want to keep carrying this shit?” I excused myself from the fire and walked over to the ocean and just like that, let it go. I didn’t spend another moment angry at him— no more wasted energy. I stood there, alone, considering my life up to that point, what was lacking, what was fulfilled. And, for some reason, it occurred to me that I was too constricted.  I thought I had missed out on a lot of opportunities because I was trying so hard to control things. I noticed that I said, “no,” a lot in an effort to —I don’t know—save money, get more sleep, or just because I was inflexible. I was 24—too young to be saying no. I thought, “what if.. for one year, I just say yes.” It felt right.  YES. At every opportunity, this year, I will say yes to life. Like a resolution, it was an intention for the year—just one word that resonated, that presented a sort of game I could play with myself. How many times can I say yes? And what will happen if I do?

A couple of days later, January 3rd, I got a phone call from a friend around 9 pm, “Hey I need one more person, we are taking a six man canoe out under the full moon to look for whales.”  I had my pajamas on—it was Hawaii, bed time was approaching. I wanted to say no because what if I didn’t get home until super late and lacked sleep, what if I didn’t like the other people on the canoe, what if I got hungry, and I had dishes to do and blah blah blah..it was so spontaneous, so out of control.  But, it was a perfect time to practice yes. I had to say yes, I had JUST made the intention two days earlier. I said yes: We paddled out to the middle of the pacific ocean around 10 pm, and watched the full moon rise over Haleakala. We listened to the whales, we looked at the bioluminescence. It was quiet, salty, and magical. I got home around 1 or 2 AM, got enough sleep and was high for 24 hours off of the experience and the new people I met.  Yes was my new favorite word.

That was the year that I moved to LA, the year I left behind a relationship that wasn’t working,  the year I went skydiving,  I started horseback riding again, hiked everyday, got new friends, saw new places. In fact, I had become *too* spontaneous, and as 2012 was coming to an end, I got a sense of what I wanted next—the word that came to mind was “discipline.” I wanted discipline desperately. So, as we brought in 2013, that was my intention. And each year forward has gone like that. As the year ends, I take notice of where my life needs work, and I find a word that feels just right, and it becomes my intention. These words have, in a sense, been little building blocks for my life for 5 years. The words leave plenty of space for whatever is MEANT to happen in the new year.

Each year, I also work out some specific goals that compliment my chosen word, but I’ve noticed that something better usually takes the place of what I had planned. For example, this year I decided I wanted to be a part of a specific theater company. It didn’t work out, I hit too many walls, but as the year ended I got handed a *much* better opportunity in the theater—an opportunity I couldn’t have dreamed up. So, I make goals with the intention of staying incredibly flexible to what may come. My word, however, carries me through the year, threading together all of my daily actions.

A couple of years ago, I started using two words because it felt right (there are no rules here!). And this year, I went for a phrase—a string of words, each word holding a dear meaning and vision to me. Are you dying to know? I’m not telling! Not yet. But  I will say that  I’ve come a long way from that 15 year old girl who wanted to get fucked up all year. Fourteen years later, I sit here drinking my green tea and morning smoothie, and I want the exact opposite.

Fun and love and happy new year,

Jackie