Fostering Intimacy With a Romantic Sanctuary

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The couples I work with all too often struggle with making time and space for sex in the context of the rest of their lives. When we have families and careers to juggle, sex all too often falls by the wayside. Yes, time and energy are at a premium for many of us. But there is also deeper level to this dynamic. We often find that juggling our different roles also makes it difficult to keep the fire alive. It is hard to switch from our role as a professional, or as a parent, into a sexual being. Instead, we may find it easier to numb, ignore, and starve our sexual selves.

The process of reintegrating this part of our beings can be a complex journey, one unique to each of us. And while it would be impossible to address the totality of this dynamic in a single blog post, I can offer you one of the starting points that has fostered intimacy for many of the couples I see, especially those with children.

Create a romantic sanctuary.

Have one place in your house that can transform into a space where your sexual self can thrive. Set the intention to spend time here a couple of times a week, whether or not you choose to have sex. When we build a fire, we need a physical pit or fireplace—a special place for that purpose alone. We also need enough space for air to pass through, and enough time to nourish the flame. So too with the fire within do we need space to breathe and time for growth. We also need to send it the message that it is an important part of our lives.

Here’s how:

  1. Pick a place in your home for your sanctuary.

The bedroom is the obvious choice for many, though it doesn’t have to be. If there isn’t one place that can be just for you and your partner (say, for example, you are co-sleeping with your child in your room), pick a place you can transform with candles, music, pillows, etc. when you and your partner want to connect. You could even add soft lighting to a bathroom and take a bath together. Wherever it is, make sure it is a place where you feel safe, comfortable, and confident that you will not be intruded upon.

  1. Let your five senses guide you in your transformation of space into sanctuary.

What smells turn you on? How does temperature affect your sexual enjoyment, and what is your ideal temperature? How do the fabrics on your bed or couch feel on your skin? How does lighting affect your mood? How about sounds? This is you gathering the wood to fuel your flame.

Consider adding candles, twinkle lights, or other soft lighting, a way to play music, or aromatherapy to the room. Leave your phones, TV, and other screens off or outside.

  1. Make sure you feel safe and comfortable to be yourself.

If you are worried about being seen through the window, make sure you to close your curtains/blinds. If you are concerned with being heard, try adding a white noise machine by the door.

  1. Set the intention to spend time together in your sanctuary fostering intimacy, whether sexual or nonsexual.

Make actual dates, and follow through with them, even if they are only for 15-minutes a night.

And if you are too exhausted/triggered/anxious/etc to have sex, spend time in your sanctuary anyway. Listen intently to your favorite album. Give each other massages. Take a bath together. Have a meaningful conversation. Create art. Enjoy a good glass of wine. Fall asleep in each other’s arms. Find a way to harbor connection to each other and to your sensory experience.

Have fun!

 

 

Three Ways to Love Yourself This Valentine’s Day

valentines dayValentine’s Day can be difficult for many reasons. For some, it brings about loneliness, sadness, or self-aggression. When this happens, a powerful antidote can be the cultivation of self-love and self-appreciation. Here are a few ways to intimately connect with yourself this Saturday.

  1. Take your inner creative out on a date

In her book The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron offers the concept of the weekly “artist date,” as a crucial part of the creative life. Simply put, we take our inner artist, or our inner child, out on a date by setting some time aside, listening to his/her longings, following them, and having fun! On my first artist’s date, I felt nostalgic for my past home of Valparaiso, Chile. There, on free afternoons, I would often put on headphones and meander through the hilly city, letting my senses guide me to ocean overlooks or hidden pockets of street art. On my date, I decided to bring the ritual to Boulder, and aimlessly wandered the city for hours. I ended up back in front of old houses I had lived in during college—places I hadn’t revisited in many years. I let myself dance with old memories, while connecting with my gratitude for my current stage of life. It was a perfectly intimate and special day I could have only shared with myself. Try, for an afternoon, to touch into that intimacy you have with yourself—with the parts of you that only you can understand. If you are feeling nostalgic, revisit the past through old music, photos, or places. If you are feeling adventurous, try something you never envisioned yourself doing, just for kicks (it could be bungee jumping, but it could also be hanging out in a different part of town, test-driving fancy cars, or trying a spa treatment you’ve never heard of). If your soul is feeling hungry, take in inspiring art, or indulge your senses through a trip through a spice shop or a delicious meal. However you are feeling, have a special experience that only you will understand.

  1. Create a vision board

A vision board is a place for you to gather and clarify what you want to invite into your life. A simple way to start is by hanging up a corkboard (poster board can also work), and perusing magazines, books, or visual websites like Pinterest, paying attention to what images, words, or phrases stand out to you. From there, you cut/print them out and collage them onto your board. It can be difficult for us to know what we want with the next chapter in our lives, and a vision board is a great way to gain understanding of what your soul is longing for—what is to calling you. Vision-boarding is powerful because it puts you in touch with what you really want—a feat that can be difficult when noise from friends, family, and the media seem to want to tell you what you need and crave.

  1. Practice Maitri

Maitri, literally translated as “loving kindness,” is a Buddhist term that often refers to the practice of being unconditionally loving and friendly toward yourself in whatever experience you may be going through. This means that if you are feeling lonely, allow yourself to be lonely, remaining compassionate towards yourself as you have your experience. It means noticing when you want to be angry with yourself for feeling how you are feeling, and choosing to love yourself instead, acknowledging that your feelings are sometimes out of your control. There are times when we receive the message that to achieve happiness, we must transcend negative emotions like anger, jealousy, or fear. Practicing maitri teaches us that these emotions are normal and sane parts of ourselves, and we are whole and loveable, no matter what we feel. Here is a five-minute exercise to help cultivate maitri: Find a comfortable seat, and begin by closing your eyes and noticing your breath. Notice it just as it is, without any need to change it. If you notice your mind drifting away, simply come back to your breath compassionately, without judging yourself. Rest your attention here for a moment. Now scan your body from head to toe, noticing where you may be holding tension or emotion. Take a moment to acknowledge this part of yourself, again, without any need to change it. Let it be just as it is. Imagine that it is a physical mass of energy, and you are able to wrap your arms or a blanket around it to comfort and love it. Ask it if it needs anything else, and imagine yourself giving that thing to it.

Why Writing Down Your Self-Care Plan is Essential to Your Well-Being

 

(Image Credit: http://recoveryaffirmations.tumblr.com/)

(Image Credit: http://recoveryaffirmations.tumblr.com/)

Making room for self care practices is not only helpful, it is an essential part of mental health and wellness. Far too often, when we are in the greatest moments of suffering, we find ourselves more prone to ignoring or harming ourselves rather than loving and nurturing ourselves. Setting the intention to practice self-love and self-care instead of self-neglect or self-harm is a powerful way to build a foundation from which we can heal and thrive.

So why write it down?

Sometimes we need that reassurance that it is OK to put ourselves first, that it is not selfish to take care of ourselves, and that we are worth the time, energy, and money we invest in ourselves. And sometimes that reassurance has to come from within. We have to remind ourselves, over and over, that we are valuable and important. When we put something on paper, we hold ourselves accountable. We make a deal with ourselves that is visible, tangible, and alive in the world outside of our own brains.

Having a tangible plan also makes it way easier to implement, especially in moments of crisis. When we are depressed, panicking, or triggered, the last thing our brains want to do is to try to figure out a way to feel better. If it feels like too daunting a task, that’s because often times, it is. Having a healthy list of options ready to go takes the pressure off of figuring it out in the moment.

Lastly, when we put the intention into writing it down, we can make sure to cover all aspects of self-care so that we achieve a more holistic wellbeing. Does your list include caring practices for your physical, social, emotional, intellectual, creative, sexual, and spiritual selves? If you are not sure what each of these parts of you need to thrive, making a list of possibilities is a way of listening to them.

So get started, and make it fun! Here are some ideas:

  1. Journal (or try an art journal!)
  2. Meditate/pray.
  3. Call _____________________ (list out all the people you can call and talk to, including crisis lines.)
  4. Run/hike/climb/go to the gym/etc.
  5. Drop in to a yoga class, or practice for a few minutes at home.
  6. Take a bath.
  7. Try a guided mindfulness exercise.
  8. Draw, paint, collage, or start another kind of art project.
  9. Go for a walk and take pictures of little inspiring things.
  10. Cuddle with a pet.
  11. Cook a healthy meal.
  12. Listen mindfully to music
  13. Keep a “smile file” online of cute videos and uplifting stories.
  14. Watch a funny movie.
  15. Try engaging your sense of smell with aromatherapy or simply lighting some incense.
  16. Give yourself permission to take a break from thinking about problems, and to let go of what is out of your control.
  17. Clean or organize some part of your home.
  18. Go window shopping.
  19. Curl up with a cup of tea and a good book.
  20. Build a fire.
  21. Pretend it is Thanksgiving and make a list of things you are grateful for.
  22. Ask your inner child what she/he wants to do for fun, and give it a try.
  23. Hang out with friends.
  24. Climb a tree.
  25. Try a small sensory grounding exercise.
  26. Try Aimless Wandering.
  27. Check out some Recovery Affirmations, and consider writing some of your own.
  28. Start a new craft project.
  29. Have compassion for whatever experience you are going through, letting go of judgment of your emotional process.
  30. Remind yourself that everything changes, and whatever is happening will pass.

12 Quick Ways to Ground in the Senses

Grounding exercises can be helpful in many different instances, whether you are experiencing something as horrifying as a panic attack or simply feeling a little disconnected from the world around you. Finding ways to ground in the senses helps to bring you back in to the present moment, and can both calm the nervous system and help to detach from spinning thoughts.

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Here are some of my favorite ways to ground when one is away from home and only has a couple of minutes, or even a couple of seconds, such as in the middle of the workday (or even in the middle of a meeting!).

  1. Step into a bathroom and let your hands run under warm water in the sink. Wash them slowly while bringing awareness to the process.
  2. Take three intentional deep breaths where your mind follows each phase of your breath completely. Feel your body expending and contracting. Notice the temperature of the air passing through you.
  3. Alternating feet, tap your toes on the floor in a slow rhythm, back and forth. Let this balance your nervous system. Keep your mental focus on this rhythm.
  4. See if there is something around you that you can explore with your sense of smell—a piece of fruit, a pine cone, the lotion in your purse. If this proves helpful, you may want to consider carrying a small bottle of your favorite essential oil to smell when you feel ungrounded.
  5. Quickly scan your body to find a place that feels particularly tense. Place your hand on that part of you and feel the heat of your hand bringing warmth to that tension.
  6. Ask yourself if you feel particularly drawn to heat or cold. If heat sounds pleasant, make yourself a cup of tea or coffee and bring awareness to each sip and the warmth of the mug on your hands. If coolness sounds soothing, do the same with a cold glass of water or other beverage. Notice your drink as it passes down your throat and into your belly.
  7. Look around the room you are in, noticing the four corners and where they meet the ceiling. Notice yourself in the context of the room as a whole.
  8. Pick a color, and now look around and try to find everything in the room or space around you that is that color. Let your eyes gaze softly in front of you as those colors now come forward in your consciousness.
  9. Let your mind rest in all the sounds you hear around you. Try to pick out any sounds in your field of vision and what direction they are coming from.
  10.  Let yourself stretch in a small way, even if it is stretching out your fingers. Notice each part of the muscles being stretched and how the movement effects them.
  11. Step outside for a short walk. Notice how the earth is pushing against the different parts of your feet at each point in your step.
  12. Pet a dog or cat. Feel the connection you have to the animal through simply making contact with them.

How to Wander Aimlessly

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When we are in a new city, or mountain valley, or country, we find it easy to reside in the present moment. Every detail around us is new and exciting. Foreign street corners speak in dreamy song; morning dew along our backcountry trail radiates a celestial presence so new, we mistake ourselves for being under a different sky. We are mesmerized—engulfed in each moment. We find the subtle beauty in those around us. Whether street vendors or pigeons or crashing waves, we eavesdrop as though opening our ears to prayer. When we travel, we do this naturally. Because we have set the intention to discover newness, whatever it may be. We put our expectations aside, and instead approach our wanderings with curiosity. We are outside of ourselves, interested in what every turn has to offer.

The mindfulness practice of aimless wandering is a way to bring these dreamy, traveling inspirations into one’s everyday life. In many forms of meditation, we place our attention on our inward experience, such as our breath or the sensations arising in our body. When we aimlessly wander, we usually move through space (although the practice can also be done sitting), and let our senses be the focus of our thoughts. We take things in, just as they are.

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We connect with our inner child: naturally curious, inspired, unassuming, amused, and connected.

So why is aimless wandering a helpful practice, and how do you do it? Aimless wandering is helpful in that it grounds us in the present moment. It helps us appreciate the world around us, it slows our thoughts down, it gives us a break from anxiety, depression, worry, and stress, and by engaging our curiosity, we find ourselves naturally inspired. We may see a spike in our creativity, playfulness, and gratitude. And at the end of it all, we are guaranteed a different perspective.

There is practically no wrong way to aimlessly wander. Simply focus your attention on your senses, and explore! Take a walk. Pause to examine the things that catch your eye, your ears, or your sense of smell. Maybe you are pulled toward the swirly pattern of bark on the neighbor’s tree. Feels its texture! Let it remind you of something. Then let your thoughts go again, and keep wandering. Sit and watch the world when a bench or patch of grass calls your name. Step into a store you’ve never thought of exploring. Smell the smells. Pretend you just landed in this neighborhood from another planet, and you are seeing earth for the first time. What baffles you? What makes sense to you? What draws you in, and what repulses you? Be curious, and then let the thought go, and continue moving, without needing to draw any definitive conclusions.

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Wander for ten minutes on your lunch break. Wander after work, knowing you’ll end up home eventually. Wander with the dog, an equally inquisitive companion. Wander alongside your partner and family, detaching and reattaching like seaweed in the rocking tide of your curiosities. At the end, share with each other. Or journal and paint what you felt. Or just continue your practice, perhaps sitting on your porch, watching the leaves quiver in the wind.

If you are interested in some of my wanderings check out Valparaiso, Unbound, collaborative prose published in Twine Magazine.  This piece is a collection of writings by three women, including myself, and explores the wanderer’s paradise of Valparaiso, Chile.

Listen to the Younger Parts of Yourself.

Listen to yourself. Listen to all parts of yourself. Listen to your past self at every age. Read the notes. Scan the pictures. Don’t just see the wisdom in creative play and inspired bliss, but also in creative coping and inspired survival. Honor the wisdom in all the ways you made it to this point.

Honor your inner toddler and honor your inner teenager. Honor the choices you made—perhaps no one else ever has.  You need someone on your side. You did then, and you djournalso now. See how amazing you were at forging on against all odds. Find your resiliency and your growth: pink hair in the greyness of depression, lyrics strewn across your homework, a flower pressed in the pages of your story. Let your strength inspire you.

Honor your teenage inspirational forces, even if they seem silly now. Feel grateful that you were inspired. Be proud that you danced and sung and screamed along with the radio. It doesn’t matter who made you dance. You danced—perhaps against all odds. Be proud.

Growing up and into who you are, you loved. Everyone has loved someone. How much bravery that takes! Never be mad at yourself for loving; be mad at others for abusing it. But don’t be mad at yourself. Instead, love yourself. You know you can do it (after all, you’ve loved before). Trust yourself enough to love yourself.

Ask your younger self advice. Ask her opinion. She is dying to be heard. If you don’t agree with her, be curious as to why. Is there something she is afraid of? Inquire as to how she wants so desperately to protect you. Thank her. She loves you a lot.

Never forget how much your younger self loves you. She is your biggest fan. She will do anything to keep you from being hurt like she was hurt. She is your mama bear. And sometimes you may find her suggestions—escape, depression, drugs, obsession—no longer helpful. Don’t hate her for trying. As I said, she has gotten you to this point. Thank her, and tell her you are going to make new choices. You can say no to her ideas without saying no to her.  Keep her in the boat. She didn’t abandon you, so don’t abandon her.

Sometimes, it may be painful to acknowledge her—to let her in. That’s because you love her so much that you can’t stand to see her suffering. Her pain may be unbearable. It’s OK to wait until you are strong enough. But don’t wait forever. She is a part of you—the today you. She is a part of Now. And she has so much to give.

Unveiling Bridezilla: Deconstructing the Anger, Chaos, and Mania Surrounding the Journey to the Wedding.

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Adapted from the original by Rachael Uris, published in Twine Magazine, Fall 2012, Boulder, CO. http://www.twinemagazine.com

 

It was just under the one-month mark when I had my routine dental visit. I let my eyelids fall to a soft close and my fingernails gripped the padded armrests as the technician scraped and poked along my gum line. As uncomfortable as it was, I welcomed the cleaning as an object of meditation—as something to place my focus on beyond corsages and place cards. I knew my gums were in bad shape, and was therefore unsurprised when she asked me if I had been flossing. “No,” I sighed. When I told her I was getting married next month, she gave a long exhale, and for the first time in my dental-visiting career I was told, “It’s no wonder you’re not flossing. We forgive you!” She then proceeded to tell me that months before she had gotten married, she started getting ocular migraines.

We laughed together. There was both mutual understanding and mutual puzzlement. We had both experienced an ungodly amount of stress before our weddings. We discussed how stress had turned us each into “bridezillas”: obsessively calling vendors with questions and leaving them cranky voicemails when they didn’t answer, acting as a drill sergeant to those involved in planning and screaming hysterically at them when deadlines were missed, awakening in the night from nightmares of flower arrangements clashing or bands not showing up. It was something we both knew all too well, yet had trouble defining or explaining, even to ourselves.

We all love to joke about the “Bridezilla Syndrome.” It seems unfathomable that we could lose our minds while attempting to organize all things beautiful—from eternal love to diamond rings, from our favorite songs to our favorite people. At our wedding, we are surrounded by love and a thousand blooming flowers, walking on rose petals in the trail of our best friends, adorned like royalty and taking one step in front of the other to meet our life’s companion. We laugh at the wedding stress rampage, because if we didn’t we may be offended, or at the very least dumbfounded by a paradox which, on the surface, appears to us as remarkably selfish, entitled and ungrateful. Somehow, we are suddenly allowed to skip flossing, and breathing, and being a generally decent human being in our interactions with others.

And we see the transformation happen to our friends, our family, our partners and ourselves. But why? We have dreamt of the swaying paper lanterns, the exploding peonies centerpieces, the satin bridesmaids with perfect pearl earrings since we were little. And now that it’s all really manifesting, as we shop alongside our best friends, as we hand-cut flowery paper to print our perfect invitations, we rip apart our brothers for suggesting the wrong shoes and tear our mothers to shreds for tying a ribbon wrong or picking out mismatching postal stamps.

The first rationale we tend to give: it’s a lot. And it is a lot: a lot to organize, a lot remember, a lot to keep track of. And with such a detailed idyllic vision of what it all should look like, the possibility of a shortcoming is terrifying. No one wants to shatter a fantasy. I found myself mulling over this while taking a step back to look at my own Bridezilla Syndrome. The general stress and pressure was obvious. Still, it felt like the majority of the puzzle was left unsolved. After all, I had far more responsibilities at work than I had taken on for the wedding, and considered myself both highly organized and a generally good manager of stress. It was a lot, but it wasn’t that much. And it was fun, for the most part.

So what else was there?

Unfortunately, some who contemplate the deeper meaning behind morphing into a ‘zilla come to the conclusion that it’s a symptom of a bad relationship; it’s some kind of hellish inflammation of an injury—a warning to stop. Perhaps the bridal rage is a person’s way of kicking and screaming her way into the wrong life path. If she’s angry about the bustle on her $2,000 dress or dissociating during her grandmother’s toast at the rehearsal dinner, it must be because somewhere deep down, she knows she is making a mistake. Right? What else could there be?

As it turns out, perfect weddings of perfectly happy couples are overwhelming. Destination weddings requiring minimal planning are overwhelming. Eloping is overwhelming. Aside from the obvious organizing a symphony of tasks and people, there’s a lot to come to terms with, to take in, to grieve and to welcome as one commits to a lifelong partnership. And something in our society tells us that this is not ok—that there should only be room for excitement and joy. But if we dig deeper into what is playing a part in our emotional journey to the wedding day, we find a mosaic of dynamic experiences to breathe, to process, to honor and to explore. These experiences are not just peripheral symptoms of the wedding, but are actually a part of what it means to wed. In embracing them, we not only dispel the anxiety that fuels the Bridezilla Syndrome, but we also enrich the sacred experience of joining with another in a life together.

Grief

No bride or groom wants to acknowledge their sadness about getting married. Because sadness and grief are so painful—even intolerable—we will do anything to rid ourselves of them. Perhaps we are afraid our sadness is related to our decision in our life partner—that it is our body’s way of telling us we don’t really want this marriage, this person, this life. We have a difficult time both acknowledging sadness and feeling peaceful in our decision. So we push it away (or towards the ribbon-tying victim) as a way of avoiding doubt.

But what could we be sad about if we were stepping into the perfect union? Is it ok to feel nostalgic about past lovers—to have the slightest twinge of loss when we acknowledge that we will never be with them again? That we will never sleep with anyone else again? Never have another first kiss or flirtatious courtship again? And even those men or women who don’t exist in the flesh—our ideals, our fantasies—is it not inevitable that we will have to say goodbye to them as well? Is there legitimacy in grieving lost possibility?

We may have imagined one day having our homes adorned with paintings of ourselves, having become the muse to a famous artist. Or maybe we had always held out a little hope for a partner with a hefty inheritance who would sweep us away to vacations in Bali when the Colorado snow got too thick. Before the engagement, the possibilities were limitless; the unknown prospects of our future were scary but exciting. But with the wedding comes closed doors. Like taking any path at the fork in the road, our freedom contracts just the littlest bit. And it’s hard to say goodbye to freedom. It hurts. It’s worth it for the right marriage, but it hurts.

And if we sink deeper, we find we are not just grieving lost circumstance, but also dying parts of ourselves. Whether it’s totalitarian reign over our futures or over our kitchen sinks, we have gotten used to a certain sense of freedom and autonomy. Even if we have been in our present relationships for some time, there was always the choice to go back to that freedom—the option to flee without too many complications if things got hairy or just plain didn’t suit what we wanted. We reminisce to the single days, when Friday night and Saturday morning belonged to us and us alone; we could leave our closet as messy as we pleased, forgo parts of our grooming rituals in the winter, and even pick up and move to India if we felt stuck in our jobs. Surrendering to a life of negotiation, of piecing together the best compromise for the family as a whole, can be something our inner bachelors and our inner nomads want to kick and scream about.

Grief exists in any transition. Whenever we walk down a new path we leave an old one behind. Yet when we fail to recognize grief for what it is, it can become more complicated and confusing. Holding so much in, the smallest bumps in the road can cause us to break, to warp into wedding monsters. The truth is, most of us haven’t been taught that grief can coexist with happy transitions, when in fact, it is an inevitable part of any life change.

Fear

For many of us, our biggest fears in life stampede wildly to the surface when we go through the engagement journey. Marriage hits at the very core of our interpersonal identity—how we protect ourselves or allow ourselves to be vulnerable, how we rejoice in another’s happiness and let others inspire us, how we either make sacrifices for love or abuse others in our struggle to modulate our own pain.

Many of us feel safer alone and find it hard to trust another person. Fear akin to claustrophobia may surface for us, bringing with them a whole host of stories and explanations: What if I’m choosing the wrong person? How can I trust someone enough to be tied to them forever—by a house, by kids, by work benefits, by income? Will I be able to leave if I want to or need to? Rather than grieving and accepting lost freedom, we panic about it.

Or perhaps we go the opposite way: we trust too easily and merge with other people effortlessly. We absorb their flavors as though we were tofu fried alongside a potent, savory vegetable or meat, and define ourselves by their proximity. One could imagine existential fears arising from such enmeshment even more intolerable. If I have defined myself by this person and they leave me, who am I?

But it’s not only our interpersonal identity that comes into focus during the wedding process. For many of us, we undergo existential explorations of all areas of our lives during an engagement. In choosing to marry, we are drawing a piece of our future’s blueprint. Like beginning a mysterious jigsaw puzzle, once a couple pieces are in place, it is only natural for our curiosity to push us into exploring deeper to manifest the picture before our eyes.

We are often deciding if we would like to have kids, where we would like to live, and how we will choose to support ourselves. In that sense, it seems logical that we would try to factor in our personal dreams, our aspirations, and our values into marriage. It can be scary to share these things with another person and in many ways, rely on that person to help manifest them. If I admit to my partner that I yearn to be a mother, will he love and accept that part of me? Will she accept me if I follow my inner artist, moving away from my stable job to pursue my hidden passion? Will she appreciate my art and my connection to it? Will he still accept me if my politics change, or my spirituality evolves into a new form? If I feel that travel is part of my life’s path, will she follow me abroad? And if she shows a side of herself I didn’t anticipate—if her values or ambitions change or unravel, will I still love and appreciate her for who she is as she evolves?

And so in asking these questions, we explore ourselves; we explore hidden parts of ourselves, we explore dead parts of ourselves, we explore possibilities of ourselves. The truth is, we can never know who we are “going to be” or what will be important to us in our futures. And so in that sense, we have to let go of caring about what music our partner dances to—for it may change—and simply appreciate how beautiful they are when they dance. And if we can support one another in dancing ecstatically, in embodying what makes us each come alive, we can move through these fears and into a thriving and dynamic marriage.

Joy

There are times when we do fall into gratitude, appreciation, and joy—those times when we fall into of love and friendship and celebration accumulating around us. But having grown up in an individualistic culture, we have trouble letting ourselves dance in the center of our community, bringing tears of joy to those around us as our gowns sweep the floor. Having taken pride in becoming self-sufficient, receiving sometimes feels uncomfortable. A poetic toast, a set of crystal glasses, the blessing of our families—we aren’t quite sure how to absorb these gifts, to be nourished and changed by them. And so we often feel vulnerable and scared.

The overwhelm we feel from joy seems to be even more perplexing than that of fear or sadness. For most of us, it doesn’t seem to make much sense. Unexamined, the confusion surrounding joy burrows itself into the deeper subconscious, and our inner ‘zilla emerges from the shadows with a host of explanations about how our discomfort is because of imperfections in flowers or shoes or stationary. When we get married, people change all around us. That uncle with whom you had a falling out gives his blessing. The parent who never seemed to notice our achievements is in tears of joy as she welcomes your chosen addition to her family. Weddings are not only excuses for family reunions; they are mirrors reflecting a family’s identity. The estrangement, the disconnection, the distance rises to the surface, and often people feel motivated to make changes. If you’ve been postponing reconnecting with your long lost brother, it suddenly may feel urgent, as you always imagined him standing by your side, your best man on your wedding day. Lost relationships come out of the woodwork to celebrate. And it’s beautiful, and sacred, and often a bit overwhelming.

Moreover, the joy between the marrying couple can feel overwhelming. The beautiful, sacred step into lifelong love, openness and companionship together is a lot to take in. At times in our engagement journey, we may feel stunted by the flood of warm and joyous feelings, unsure of how to let it all in. We may find ourselves frustrated with our process, yearning to enjoy the moment but unsure of how to connect to its greatness. We may be afraid that if we don’t figure out how to take it all in, we’ll miss it.

As with grief, it is important to welcome this overwhelm into our experience, accepting it as a normal and very sacred part of the wedding journey. Just as we traditionally savor the wedding cake for a year, freezing the top layer to be enjoyed on our first anniversary, so too must we learn to take small bites of our celebratory joy—to allow each wonder to have the dance floor to itself so that we may appreciate it in its fullness. I found it helpful to hand-make and hand-address our wedding invitations, spending the five minutes on each to embody gratitude for its recipient. Looking at a list of two hundred guests, people began to turn into table numbers and food preferences. Spending a few minutes with each, even if it’s just touching an envelope with their name, helped me to take in my love and appreciation for each individual, and I was able to let my joy cleanse me without drowning in it.

We can do this with all aspects of the joy arising in our engagement. We can take our time selecting our wedding attendants, taking it as an opportunity to honor those closest to us, or take the scenic route writing our vows, letting ourselves fill with inspiration from our favorite poems, or conversations, or places in nature. And we can honor that joy will come in forms we may not expect; we are better off dropping our expectations of how we should be moved and allowing room for spontaneous inspiration, gratitude, and joy.

As we walk down our rose petal aisle from engagement to wedding, we pass rows upon rows of our most surface and our most buried emotions, all present now in their best dresses, hands full of rice and belly’s ready to be nourished at the tables we have set for them. The inner “Bridezilla” seems to emerge when we ignore them—when we feel resentful about them showing up uninvited. They are uncomfortable, confusing, and hard to understand. When we can’t place a finger on their source, sadness, fear, and overwhelm can be frustrating and even terrifying. Confusion and suppressed emotions become chaotic, disoriented, groundless. And so many of us turn to planning perfectionism to help us regain a sense of control. When things don’t go according to plan, we call on our ‘zilla side in a desperate attempt to find the ground—or at the very least—to blame someone else for our discomfort.

And so instead, we can invite ourselves to honor these emotions. Like the colorful guests of our wedding, they give the journey of marriage its life force and its meaning; they make the celebration alive. So the challenge then becomes learning to welcome these emotions into our experience of engagement and wedding—setting a place for them at our table and offering them a space on our dance floor. If we are to honor what it means to marry, let us acknowledge the vastness and diversity of its experience.

Resolutions

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January is a strange juxtaposition. The sun flickers like a gentle flame for what feels like a sliver of a moment before we are plunged into evening darkness, and yet we yearn to be reborn. We write resolutions from deep within our caves—about movement and connection and progression while our most primitive instincts beg us to hibernate and recuperate. Arriving in a new year, we itch to spread our new wings, knowing full well that we may be wrapped up in our cocoon for some time longer.

What does it mean to give birth to a new year in the deadest month of its life?

It is strange indeed to push newness against the winter’s deadness. We pledge to clean out our car from holiday shopping madness, only to find temperatures dropping below freezing and the task seeming nearly impossible. We decide to start running, only to find ourselves up against darkness, or ice, or a bout of never-ending flu. The New Year gives us so much ambition and so little sun and warmth and energy to carry it out.

So how can we aspire for newness and growth, given what we have? How can we plant seeds in frozen earth, and feed them with only flickers of daylight? Here are some ideas to cultivate both optimism and renewal in one of the most difficult months of the year:

–       Make a list of all the things you appreciate about winter and find a creative way to display them as a reminder. Write them on a reclaimed window. Hang ornaments with their words from a tree branch. Make prayer flags.

–       Shift your activity-oriented resolutions to those activities that are better in winter. Snowboarding is an obvious one. But I personally find hiking and running to be more pleasant (and less crowded) in the winter months, out of the heat.

–       Bring your inspiration inward to your home. Use the extra time you are spending there to redecorate a room or start a homey project.

–       Enjoy being cozy. Maybe this means lots of soothing baths and homemade mud masks. Maybe it means allowing yourself a decadent cappuccino each day. Or maybe it means scarves, or putting on PJs still warm from the dryer, or the moment you step inside from a cold walk home. Indulge those burrowing instincts while it feels good.

–       If you’re craving summer, find little ways to create your own summery moments. Have an evening of raw oysters and crisp white wine. Spend a half hour walking around your favorite plant store and bring home some fresh flowers or a tropical fern. Enjoy being barefoot in your yoga class. Paint your toenails for the occasion.

–       Try to remember the moments in summer when you were craving winter. See if you can bring back the feeling of jumping into a freezing river, just to cool off. Appreciate the mercifulness of sun in January.

–       Look for beauty in nakedness. Nakedness of the trees. The skeletons of gardens. Fresh snow yet to be scratched by footprints.

–       Watch how dogs react to freshly fallen snow. Try to figure out exactly what makes it so magical for them, knowing that it may always be a mystery.

–       See if you can hear the silence of winter. Search for the serenity in auditory spaciousness that is so often under-appreciated.

–       Enjoy your holiday presents, AND the space created once the tree (and guests) are gone.

–       Think of a creative way to display all of your holiday cards, inviting the warm wishes of your community and family to linger through the winter. Use them as a reminder to connect with your loved ones when you feel isolated.

–       Watch as the days get longer, little by little.

–       Even if you find yourself inspired to make a change that’s incompatible with winter (planting that veggie garden), write it down. Take steps now to make it possible later. Consider shifting from new year’s resolutions to “new season resolutions,” inviting newness with each solstice or equinox and remembering that growth and renewal is part of each day.

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Rachael Uris, MA, LPC is the owner of Atacama Counseling, LLC, offering sex therapy as well as individual and couple's counseling for issues surrounding sexuality, love, and pregnancy. All services are located in downtown Boulder, Colorado, and are provided in English and Spanish.
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