The Intimacy Interviews

To all of the women reading this:

I want us to talk. I mean like really, really talk. I want us to talk about the thing that tends to be our downfall and our salvation. That’s right…I want to talk about romantic love and intimacy and passion and heartbreak and all of the little things that exist between all of these words that are so much more than words. They are experiences and feelings and emotions.

I want to hear your greatest love stories, regardless of how they ended. I want to know what you learned from the lowest places of heartache and from the highest places of connection. I want to hear about the time you felt love so deeply that you felt for sure that you had found ‘the one’. I want to hear about the when that love left and you felt broken and unsure of everything.

I want to hear about the one night stands, the decades-long partnerships, passionate drawn out affairs and the one who got away. I want to hear about your marriages and your divorces and your first love and the relationships that you can’t quite define.

I want to hear what keeps you up at night. I want to hear about the mistakes that you keep making over and over and over. If you think you’ve got it all figured out I definitely want to hear from you. And this is not about our love for our friends or our children or our pets. I think we can all agree that those interactions tend to walk a straighter line. Oh no, let’s get to the stuff that songs and poems are written about.

Why do I want to know all of this?

Because I feel quite sure that this is the story that I am meant to tell. And I need your help. My 39th birthday is approaching and I want my year before the big 4-0 to be something meaningful. There are two big things that I’ve been wanting to do for a while now—-write a book and get out of my own way. I think that this project will help me accomplish both. Starting the week of my birthday, I will interview a different woman every week for a year. That’s 52 women, 52 stories. And during these weeks that will become the final year of my 30’s, while conducting these interviews, I will be setting about on doing some very important work on myself.

You see, I’ve kinda got my stuff figured out at this point in life. I love my jobs and feel absolutely certain that I have found my purpose on this earth. I have the best friends that a woman could ever ask for. My life is filled with beauty and adventure. I have found my bliss. But alas, the one thing that’s always eluded me has been relationships with men. Basically, I’m pretty bad at them. It has something to do with a fear of intimacy for some reason. And it’s the work I’m finally ready to do. Over the course of this 39th year of mine, I am taking a vow to completely abstain from any kind of romantic encounter. All of the energy I once threw into going-nowhere relationships is now going to be funneled straight to myself and this new project.

So what’s in it for you if you decide to become part of this? Well, you see, things tend to lose the power that they hold over us when we speak them aloud. If you need to heal, I’m here to take that story away from you just a little bit. Or perhaps you are trying to figure it all out like I am. Maybe together we can start to find some answers. It’s time to talk about this stuff. I have a feeling that, at the core of things, we have more things that bind us together than things that make us separate. I recently searched for books that dealt with women and intimacy and came up with a lot of results that read like “How to Get that Guy.” There’s got to be more than that. Who are we when we are in relationship and how does that shape and shift who we are in this world?

All of the results of these interviews will be treated with the utmost respect and anonymity. That being said, I will ask you to be completely vulnerable and open with me. It won’t work if you aren’t. I want you to tell me the things that you never thought you would breathe aloud. I have training in compassionate communication and holding space for others. I promise to honor your joys and your sorrows and your truths, no matter what package they come in. If I am a stranger to you, I can provide references of friends and yoga students who will tell you that this is something I am completely capable of.

I don’t know quite where this project will go. But I’m excited to find out. I want to talk to women of varying ages, backgrounds and sexual orientations. If you are interested in being part of this, please send an email to theintimacyinterviews@gmail.com Tell me briefly what it is you might want to share with me. And if you don’t know and are still interested, that’s quite alright as well. Let me know where you live. I am definitely not opposed to travel; I’m a big believer in face to face communication but if that can’t happen, then a good old fashioned phone call would suffice.

Thank you for your time.

Ashley Skeen

I was talking to a friend yesterday and told him that I had just wrapped up a two day spree of being in a super pouty mood.  He remarked that he didn’t think I was the kind of person who got pouty.  And I don’t think he’s alone in his assumption.  I am really good at hiding it.  For one, I tend to retreat when I’m not feeling great; and also, I have jobs that kind of force me to be ‘on.’  But in the name of this blog and the vow to honesty in which it was established, I want to open up a little about the pouty moods of mine.  But let’s call a spade a spade here….I want to open up about my depression.

It’s been a part of me for as long as I can remember.  The cliché black cloud that sneaks in and follows me around has been in my weather pattern since high school at least.  In those years, I’ve learned how to tame it a little.  I’ve learned that going for a good run will help me outrun some demons.  When I discovered yoga, I started learning how to shift my thoughts around a little more productively.  And I’ve learned that if I can force myself out of the house to be with friends, then the ‘fake it til you make it’ method works pretty nicely.  And I write.

But there’s always that period of time at the height of the depression where going for a run, doing yoga, seeing friends and writing all just seem like too much.  It’s the little gremlins in my head feeding off the black hole of my mood and they don’t want to go anywhere.  They are happier on the couch.  Because then they can convince me that I am worthless and that this mood is all my fault and then and then and then and then.  The thoughts swirl up and then get sucked down a drain, leaving me feeling depleted and just wanting to sleep a little longer.

The duration of these bouts and the frequency have shifted and ebbed over the years.  But it was beginning to become clear to me that, although I had all the tools in my toolbox, something bigger was going on.  My doctor offered to prescribe some medicine to help with my moods and I tried one that didn’t have any effect on me at all and then another one that effected me way too much.  Now, I had been used to maintaining ‘my crazy’ but how I felt on this second medicine was a whole other level.  I stopped taking it and knew that I never wanted to feel like that again.   It was then that I started looking into going to a psychiatrist.

It was a pretty great decision.  Not only was this guy super easy to talk to but he seemed to be able to understand what we were dealing with right away.   I told him in my first appointment that I was there because I knew that it was possible to feel better than I felt, and I wanted to be able to access that place.  He knew that I practiced self care and mindfulness and agreed that the right medicine might finally help me get past the boundary in which I was just getting in my own way.  It was then that he introduced me to GeneSight, a DNA test done with a simple cheek swab that will come back telling you what medications might work best for your specific body chemistry.  Lo and behold, when my test came back, not only did they confirm what I had already suspected—that something in my very makeup was slightly off making me prone to depression; but the results also showed what medicines would not work with my body chemistry.  And there in a bright red ‘will have negative reaction’ column was the very drug that I had such a bad experience with.  Science is pretty cool.

So anyhoo, over the past few months I have been on a low dose of a medicine that showed up in a ‘green is good’ category and I can say without a doubt that it is helping.  Overall, I am feeling more hopeful, happy and capable than I have in a long time.  That is, until a couple of days ago.

It started with an injury.  There I was, first at ‘bat’ in my adult league kickball game and after I kicked I ran to first base and something in my quadriceps kind of just snapped.  Now, lucky for all of us adults that really are too old to be playing kickball, there is a team called The Bonecrushers that consists of primarily orthopedic surgeons.  So after I was carried off the field, one of them examined me, told me that the tendon was still attached and that I just had a partial tear of the muscle.  “Rest and ice!” he yelled over his shoulder as he ran back to the field.  Also, my mood that weekend was being invaded by an ex who had just happened to get in touch out of the blue.  Now, I had just done a burning ceremony to burn and let go of one asshole and another asshole just drops back into the picture.  (Warning: things like this usually happen after burning ceremonies….it’s like the universe is making sure you’re good on your promise.)

That evening, I blocked and deleted bachelor #2 (the technological solution to a burning ceremony) and then went to bed early in hopes of a brand new day in the morning.  However, I set my alarm wrong and that resulted in me sleeping entirely too long.  I awoke with a couple of very vivid dreams still in my head.  In the first, I had met a very charming, handsome and rich man who flew me to Finland.  I had thought I had finally found a partner, someone who was willing to love me completely.  But then he told me he was gay.  Oh well.  And in the second dream, I was in some kind of jury room and I was pleading my case.  I was trying to convince a room full of people that what I was doing with my life was worthy.  So there it was in two dreams, my biggest fear of not being able to find love and my biggest insecurity of not being worthy.

So much for the brand new day.  I walked around dizzy and out of sorts.  Fortunately for me, my pout fest coincided with the release of the new season of Orange is the New Black so I stayed in bed or on the couch for the whole day and well into the next.  And then I had to leave the house because I had an appointment, as it happens, with my psychiatrist.  I went into his office and when he asked me how I was doing, a torrent of now what sounded like whines came out of my mouth—“I hurt myself so I can’t exercise like I want to and I had bad dreams and boys are terrible and then and then and then.”

He asked me what the jury of my dreams had decided about my worthiness.  I told him that I woke up before the decision came in……..And then he asked me how I had been feeling before the kickball incident.  I told him the truth.  I told him how I had a newfound happiness that people around me could see.  I told him that I felt like I was able to feel joy more completely.

“So do you feel like you can get over this?” he asked me.

“Of course I can,” I said.

“So maybe it’s just time to put on your big girl pants and get out of your own way.  You were doing so well and none of these things sound like game changers.”

At that point, I shit you not, with the sky just a little gray and no rain in sight, a crack of thunder so loud that it made us both jump out of our chairs and yell profanities struck right outside the building.

“Ashley, that’s God talking and he thinks I’m right,” my doctor joked.  And then he sent me on my way.

Here’s the trickiest thing about joy.  Sometimes it is really hard to accept that it’s not some dumb stroke of luck when it shows up in your life.  Especially when you have some deep seeded insecurity that perhaps you are not worthy.  And sometimes it’s even trickier to think that it’s even in the realm of possibility that this joy will last.  I’ve read that this is called “foreboding joy”, this idea of not fully being able to embrace the good things in life because you’re  already thinking of the ways in which they might end.

And that’s where the wiser me has got to rise up and take charge.  Because clearly I’m not fully healed if these worries make their way into my dream state.  But I can get out of my own way a little if I start to write the ending to these dreams.  The seemingly perfect man who turns out to be gay doesn’t mean that I’m unlovable just as the jury’s decision on my worthiness has no real bearing on what I decide to do with my life.  I can rest, ice, and compress my leg and heal myself to a place of running again.  It just takes time.  But I can get there, with all of it.  Soon I’ll be nimble enough to leap out of my own way.



Pink Bubbles, Canoes

For a while now, I’ve been following the moon, watching the giant orb of light in the sky and letting its’ fullness remind me of release and letting the absence of that light remind me of intention and wishes.  It’s one of the more hippie dippy, yoga teacher things that I do.  But I’ve only been doing it halfway.  And then a few weeks ago, I ordered a book called Moonology that is all about working with the lunar cycles.  Side note: my order also included a book about crystals and one about how to become a woman warrior and I completely pictured Amazon painting me into a ‘weird chick’ category in their software and fully embraced all of it.  So be it.  But I still refuse to drink kombucha.

So this Moonology book is all about how to fully use the power of the moon to bring focus and fulfillment and peace to your life.  If you’re rolling your eyes right now, please be aware that the moons influence the tides and our bodies are mostly water; so….science.

Just yesterday, the full moon was in Sagittarius and so the night before, I wanted to do a little releasing/forgiveness ceremony.  I invited a few friends to come over after a concert that was being held downtown.  However, there was beer at the concert and by the time I was ready to do my ceremony, most of my attendees were no longer interested.  Oh well, fun times.  However, one friend did join me in my backyard as we drank a little red wine, burned pieces of paper into a soup pot and imagined those we were forgiving floating away in little pink bubbles.

Here’s the thing about forgiveness.  Sometimes it’s pretty tough to do.  But you have to remember that by forgiving somebody, you’re not making them right.  You’re just allowing yourself to be at peace with the whole thing.  And being at peace sounds pretty rad, right?  This Moonology book also suggests thinking about it this way: that everyone in your life who you need to forgive is your teacher.  They were put into your life so that you could evolve and learn and be the best freakin’ you possible.  But learning sucks sometimes……remember Calculus?

The other practice that’s important to do during full moons is gratitude.  Moonology suggests that this is because after releasing yourself of all the bad juju (anger, resentment, etc.) through forgiveness, you now have room to invite the good stuff (love, laughter, puppies, etc.) in via gratitude.

But I think this practice goes beyond being grateful for all that’s good in your life; and that’s the little light bulb moment that I had during my class this morning.  When you practice gratitude, you must also offer gratitude to your teachers.   That’s right, you must not only forgive those stinkers that hurt you and made you mad…..you must also thank them for doing so.

The other night, while doing my forgiveness ceremony, I had one particular person who I had difficulty imagining in a little pink bubble of loving forgiveness.  I thought that maybe I wasn’t ready to forgive them quite yet.  The hurt was too fresh, the lesson not yet figured out, the heartache too deep.  And then today, while my class was in savasana, I began to think about how I wished to thank that person.   So I came home, I got the soup pot back out and I wrote another letter.  This time I thanked the person.  I thanked them for splitting my heart wide open because wide open is exactly where I want to be.  And there’s more……but right now that’s just for me.  But I ended the letter with “I forgive you.”  And then I burned that sucker.

I read it once that resentment is like continuing to carry a big old heavy canoe on your back, when it really was only meant to get you from one shore to the other.  Forgiveness is dropping the canoe once you get to the other side.  And gratitude is jumping up and down in the shallows of the water as you gaze across at the place from which you came, and then  turning around running arms and heart wide open into brave new lands.


Eight People

The night before last I was walking down the beach with a friend.  We had just had a delicious meal followed by a ridiculous shopping excursion in a tacky souvenir shop.  The sun was beginning to set and so we decided that, rather than get an Uber home, we would take our shoes off and walk the two miles home through the sand.  This friend is someone who, from our  very first conversation, has been the person I can express all of my thoughts to.  She gets me, she makes me think, she indulges any ridiculous question that I have.  So as we walked the sky gently turned from blue to black, flirting with shades of pink and violet on its way to night.  The waves lapped lazily and the breeze pushed gently against us.  This night, this setting, this friendship was made for hearts laid bare.  And so I began to tell her a story that I had never told anyone.  But now I will tell it here.

It was 2009 and I had been living in Colorado for six years, married for three.  It was late springtime and snow still blanketed the mountains and Aspen was in full gear with tourists.  A friend of mine was getting married in a few months time and a handful of us gathered for a bachelorette party/night out on the town.  We wound up at a bar situated  at the base of Aspen Mountain, a place that was known for it’s ‘apres ski’ scene.  We weren’t dressed in traditional bachelorette gear because we were mountain chicks……however, my friend wore a white fleece and a veil on her head.  So we were having drinks at the bar and a group of gentlemen approached us and wanted to buy us the next round.  They were in town from Canada having a divorce party.  One of them had been a professional hockey player and had just split from his wife;  they had split the houses (plural) and he had gotten the Aspen home.  So he invited a few buddies to join him on a ski trip to celebrate.

So as the night wound on, we started having fun with these guys and we were all tickled by the fact that we were celebrating the beginning of a marriage and they were celebrating the end of one.  The men had reservations for the private dining room at one of the finest restaurants in town and as that time approached they asked us to join them for dinner, their treat.  It was one of those “why wouldn’t you?” situations.  So we went to this restaurant, drastically underdressed, and had a great meal.  As we were eating, this one man who I had been talking to quite a bit told me he had a confession to make.

“We didn’t come over and buy you guys drinks because your friend is getting married.  But that was a great excuse.  The truth is that you were lighting up the entire room and I told my friends I had to find a way to get to know you.  I know you are married and I’m not trying to be inappropriate at all but you need to know how special you are.  And I’ve got this feeling you are going to do amazing things with your life.”

After dinner we went our separate ways, my friends and I to a local watering hole and the men to the swanky members only club.  I’ve never spoken to that man again.  I have a slippery memory of his face but can’t remember his name.   And yet.  Flash forward to a couple nights ago on the beach talking with my friend….

“Do you think that man is one of your eight?” she asked me after I had told her the story.  I replied yes without even thinking twice.

My friend had told me her theory of the eight before.  She believes that if you’re lucky, throughout your life you will meet eight people who, by meeting them, will profoundly change the course of your existence.  These people might only be in your life for a few minutes.  Or they might be in your life for decades.  But something in them truly and profoundly changes something in you.  Now, this is not a soul mate in the romantic sense per se.  Nor is it the eight most important people in your life.  I am so fortunate to have wonderful parents and friends who love me and lift me up.  They support me, they get me, they make me laugh and listen when I cry.  We shift and change together.  But they are not my eight.

This random Canadian man?  He’s one of my eight.  And I know this because, here it is, eight years later (look what happened there….) and that night is so profound for me that it will never leave the slippery folds of my memory.  Because at that point in my life when I met him, I was feeling very un-special and un-shiny.  I was in a marriage in which I did not feel appreciated.  I didn’t feel like my ex ‘got’ me or loved the parts of me that I was most proud of.  I had a light grasp of a feeling that I was meant to do ‘more’ but I didn’t know what.  And I didn’t feel like my partner believed in me at all.  And it’s hard to achieve anything when the one you sleep next to doesn’t support the effort.  And this Canadian man had no motives when he told me I was shiny and special and that he believed in me.  And yet he did.   And in that moment, I believed him.  And after that, I started getting a little stronger every day, investing in my strength and my self and my shine.  And that all brought me here, which is truly where I’m meant to be.

I have a few more that fill my list of eight.  One of them is my abusive ex (your eight people don’t necessarily have to be positive in your life).  However, I had been travelling around in a state of numb for a while when I was with him.  I was just doing what I thought I ‘should’ be doing.  With my studies, it was like I was running through  a race I wasn’t sure I wanted to even finish.  When I left him, I had to leave the state for my own safety.  He pushed me fully and completely out of my comfort zone.   But I needed that.  After leaving him, I moved to Aspen and began exploring a life that made sense to me, regardless if it made sense to anyone else.  And that way of living has been an compass for my soul ever since then.

One of my other ‘eights’ is the first man that I fell in love with.  It was decades ago, I was young, and the relationship only lasted a few months.  But yet, he showed me what I should expect in finding connection with a partner.  He showed me that love exists more powerfully in actions than in words.  I could talk to him about anything.  And he made my heart do absolute backflips every time he looked at me.  That’s how I want to be loved and I will always thank him for giving me that guide.

And my friend, the one who stepped side by side with me in the sand a couple nights ago?  Well, I’m pretty sure she’s number four.  It might take the gift of time to see how exactly she is shifting my life but I am certain that she is doing so.  The thing about your eight is that you never see them coming.  So it’s best to stay open, to let people enter your soul and your life.  Talk to strangers, fall in love, pursue a new friendship.  You never know who is going to change your life unless you allow them to do so.

The other day I put on a purple shirt and I thought the same thought that I have had for the past 30 years whenever I wear purple.  I was walking out of my elementary school wearing a violet dress.  The mother of one of my classmates looked at me and said “Well, Ashley, we’ve finally found a color that looks good on you.”  Inappropriate? Sure.  Insignificant? Of course.  Because it was just a passing comment, one that this woman probably forgot five minutes after she said it.  Meanwhile, thirty years later, I am still trying to reckon with how that has guided my life.

I started thinking about the purple dress after I read this sentence in the book “Autobiography of a Face” by Lucy Grealy:

“Sometimes the briefest moments capture us, force us to take them in, and demand that we live the rest of our lives in reference to them.”

I wasn’t a particularly attractive child.  I know my mom and dad are reading this and right now chiming in with protests.  But let’s call a spade a spade here.  I had a perm and a silver tooth and then traded that in for a mullet and some braces.  And I have always marched to the beat of my own drummer when it’s come to fashion.  Just ask one of my high school girlfriends about the doily outfit.

The comment about the purple dress was perhaps the first time as a young girl where the idea of being pretty even entered my head.  But it stayed there.  And then, at middle school dances, when I sat alone on gymnasium bleachers watching all the other girls getting asked to dance, being held at arm’s length by gangly little boys, I began to think that perhaps pretty was the most important thing to be.  I began to measure my worth by times that I was desired…..but those times were few and far between in my young years.  So therefore I felt a little worthless.

And that girl?  The one that sat alone on the bleachers?  The one who hadn’t yet seen the world and found independence and starting doing great things with her life yet?  Well, she still lived inside of me.  And she made a lot of the decisions for me.  I have let a lot of men in my life get away with treating me terribly, all because they told me I was beautiful.  I have at times neglected putting energy towards myself so that I could funnel energy into the men that I have loved, in a crazy effort to prove myself desirable.  I have not embraced the complete awesomeness of who I have been in my life, all so that I could be more palatable and easy to want.  And only now am I realizing how absolutely crazy that all is.

When I was living in Aspen, I got a coveted position as a cocktail waitress at a members only nightclub.  At the club, it was known that only the prettiest girls worked there, sauntering around holding drinks aloft on a tray wearing high heels and short skirts.  I wanted the job because the money was great.  But I think I was also trying to prove something.  To who?  The girl on the bleachers of course.  The girl that only looked good in purple.  And I continued to try to prove things to her as I listened to men spout words that I knew were lies but as long as they contained the words “you’re beautiful” I would see the whole package as truth.  I have allowed my open heart to shatter way too many times trying to please that little girl.

The other day, while I was wearing the purple shirt, I ran into a friend of mine; and as it does often, the universe tilted towards serendipity and my friend told me a story that sounded all too familiar. My friend has a beautiful voice.  I have heard her sing once and it brought me to tears and filled up my entire being with warmth.  When she was a young girl, my friend would compete in singing competitions.  At the age of 10, she came in second to another young girl in a beautiful sparkly dress.  My friend’s story from that point on was “I’m not a good enough singer and I’m not enough for sparkly dresses”.  As fate would have it, three decades later, my friend was in nursing school with a woman and one day they got to talking and figured out that the woman was the girl in the sparkly dress all those years ago.  And the woman told my friend that her mom would buy all these sparkly dresses that they couldn’t afford and then return them to the store the next day.  So this story, the one that my friend held herself up to, the one that made her feel not enough?  Not only was it not true for a million reasons, but it was also just a complete mirage.

And yet….oh, and yet.   I am guessing we all have versions of these stories that we keep spinning around.  These things that we lead the rest of our lives in reference to.  Until one day we decide that perhaps we know better now.  Until one day we realize that these points of reference are steering us right into oncoming traffic every time.  So what do we do?  We start by calmly but forcefully telling that little girl on the bench, that little girl singing her heart out only to come in second, that it’s alright for her to stop talking now.

We let that story go just a little bit.  We let it ease out of our beings with a gentle grace.  We realize that while childhood games are fun; it’s time to grow up and start being real about what we need and deserve and what no longer serves us.  And then we start with the apologies.  We apologize to all the versions of ourselves that we subjected to false stories; we apologize to that little girl for putting her in situations that she had no hope of succeeding in.  And also, because I know I for one have left others in the wake of my destruction when I acted out from places of needing to be desired, we apologize to all of those who were affected by our stories.  Verbally, energetically, peacefully.  We promise to try harder, because that’s all that we can ever do in this life.

I still wear purple.  And my friend still sings.  And together we laugh about these crazy stories we told ourselves.  We bemoan the fact that we let them rule our lives for so long.  But we also know that in the process of reconciling them and rewriting them, we have become wiser and stronger and our hearts more open.  We have become enough.  We have become beautiful.



A Story About Crows

I want to tell you a story about crows.  To do so I must tell you another story.  And to tell you that story, I must tell you another one.  And that story is kinda sad, OK?

My aunt Becky passed away too soon.  It was only a year and a half after the passing of her sister and my aunt Susan.  They both died of ovarian cancer when I was in my early-20’s.  And still, a decade and a half later, I mourn them every day.  They were amazing women, gentle and graceful, both of them possessing singing voices that would stop anyone in their tracks.  Growing up, there was always a guitar present at all family gatherings and when Becky and Susan began to harmonize on a song that was being played, their voices rising together with decades of practice, I knew that this world was made of pure magic.  Their loss stings me at times when I don’t know what to make of this life because I imagine that a conversation with them might allow me to be a little more sure of everything.

By the time Susan’s cancer was diagnosed, it was too late and she died just a mere couple of months later.  Becky was diagnosed shortly thereafter and was able to fight the disease for a while.  We watched her go through anger, strength, sadness and peace, sometimes all at the same time.  When chemo caused her to lose the wild array of brown curls on her head, I think we all mourned a little bit more.  It made perfect sense that her memorial service would be filled with song.  She taught music to young children and her students, present and former, attended her service.  People played dulcimers and guitars and mandolins and I watched their tears fall on their instruments as we all sent our voices up to the sky to meet Becky’s spirit.

After the service, my cousin Erin, Becky’s daughter, stood up at the front of the service, displaying a strength and grace that no one of her teenage years should ever have to show so soon, and handed out little satchels filled with Becky’s ashes.

“My mom wouldn’t have wanted to stay in one place,” she said.  “She would want to travel.  So take her with you and let her see the world.”

The following summer I was making a cross country road trip and Becky traveled in the glove compartment until I found the perfect place.  I passed up the Badlands and Yellowstone and the Tetons.  When we reached Zion National Park, I knew that I had found the place.  I asked my traveling companion for some privacy and hiked to the top of a steep trail until I found a vista suitable of Becky’s beauty.  Tears were trapped in my throat as I gazed out over the red rocks that were commanding attention from the blue sky.  I opened the satchel, turned it upside down and the winds quickly caught the ashes and carried them past the canyon walls.  She was gone.  I hung my head.  And then I heard something.  It was a cry and it belonged to a large crow that had come swooping up from behind the butte right in front of me.  As it made circles in the sky, crying its primal call, I finally found release for the tears that had been trapped.

A few years later, life found me in a place that I never would have expected.  I was living in  Aspen, Colorado after following some whims and a good looking raft guide.  My dad had come to visit me and I showed him all around the wilds of my new home.  He had packed Becky’s ashes with him and it was when I showed him the John Denver Memorial rock garden on the banks of the Roaring Fork River that he knew that he found his place.  We returned the next day and stood in front of a large rock carved with the lyrics of the song “Perhaps Love.”  We read the lyrics aloud and then my dad spread the ashes at the base of the rock.  It was then that our attention was pulled to the caw of a crow flying over the river.  I had told him of my own experience and so the two of us simply stood locked in our places for a while.  It was then I knew for certain that Becky’s spirit would always be present, that my aunts’ love for their family was so strong that they would never, ever truly leave us.


Years after that, life found me in yet another unexpected place.  I was on a Reiki table in the jungle of Costa Rica.  I had made a decision to attend yoga school because my life had turned into what I liked to refer to as a bad country song.  So there I was face down on this table as this ethereal woman moved her hands over me.  Reiki is a practice of healing based on the principles of the subtle energy channels in the body, the point being to release energy from places where it has become trapped.

“I had to do a lot of work on your root chakra,” she told me as I left the session in a bit of a daze.

Now, yoga school isn’t just about learning the perfect headstand.  Oh no, it’s about doing a true exploration of yourself so that you can get to a place where you can guide others to do the same.  And my yoga teacher was very much focused on the chakras, the seven points of energetic homes in our bodies.  We hadn’t yet started working with the chakras at the time of my Reiki treatment so I went back to my bungalow and flipped through my chakra book to figure out why my root was in such distress.  I read about how the root chakra is associated with familial obligation so I attributed my faulty chakra to the fact that I was an only child and thus a lifelong perfectionist and moved on.

And then the day came shortly thereafter when we focused on the root chakra.  We started with a two hour physical practice in which we did a bunch of grounding poses as my teacher told us more about this little spinning red ball of energy located at the base of the spine, at one’s root.  She talked about how our root chakra had to do with our right to be here, our right to have all that we want out of life.  The first chakra is where our survival information lives and asks ‘from whom do you need permission to take care of yourself?’

After this two hour practice, we were instructed to take silence for our hour long break for breakfast. We would do this fairly often in school, so that rather than fill our mouths and minds with chatter, we could start to listen to ourselves.  So I went inside, curled up on a chair and started writing in my journal.  And then I began to panic.  Because what I realized in that moment was that I had no survival instinct.  I had always joked that I was going to drive off a cliff Thelma and Louise style when I turned 65 and in the toughest times of my life I had brief thoughts of cutting that timeline short.  Somewhere deep down inside of me, I didn’t believe that I had the right to be here, the right to thrive.  And I found myself sitting there, wild with fear, no longer wanting to be quiet.

I left the main house and found my shoes and went running down the long dirt driveway that led away from all of my fellow students who were all quietly writing and eating breakfast.   When I made it far enough away so that no one could hear me, I dropped to the ground and wrapped my arms around my legs, rocking back and forth.  The sounds coming out of my mouth were somewhere between a cry and a scream.  And then I heard something else.  I pulled my head from my arms and looked up.  It was that black bird, circling above me, crying.  She had come to see me, to tell me that I was strong enough to do this, that I was meant to survive and thrive.  She came to tell me that she was not going to leave me alone until I did so.  I walked back to the house slowly, tears running down my face but a comfort in my skin that I had never felt before.  That night, in the wee hours of morning, I was awakened by a small earthquake.  It was the first earthquake I had experienced and yet I had never felt so safe as I did in that moment.


And so we come to my story about crows.  The one that I wanted to tell you.  I wanted to tell you that they now follow me around.  That they appear to me  in times when I most need them.  I want to tell you that there are little signs all over this world and they are just begging you to notice them and that these signs are telling you that everything is going to be OK.

I want to tell you that it’s often when I’m making a difficult decision and finally reach a conclusion—that’s when I will see the crow.  I want to tell you that we all know deep within ourselves exactly what we need to do.  All the time.  I want to tell you to trust yourself more than anyone else on this entire planet.

I want to tell you that losing someone you love in the worst thing in the entire world.   But that the best way that you can honor their life is to live yours with so much strength and beauty and service and zest that you can practically hear them laughing from whatever plane they are inhabiting now.  I want to tell you that when I see the crow, I check in with myself to see what I’m hearing.  I want to tell you that it’s alright to be quiet and just listen sometimes.

I want to tell you that I’m really into spirit animals, creatures coming into your life to call your attention to something.  I want to tell you that if the crow has chosen you as your spirit animal, it supports transformation and connection with life’s beauty in every shape that it takes.  I want to tell you that when I hear the cry of that bird, I sometimes hear the harmonizing of my aunt’s voices.   I want to tell you that this world is made of pure magic; and it’s just waiting for you to notice it.



IMG_2589I’ve known for a long time that I am going to write a book one day.  Years ago, I attended a talk given by a well-known novelist in which he talked about how all people had stories hidden inside of them and writers were those that had the key in which to unlock them for the world to see.  Afterwards, my friend whom I attended the talk with grabbed me by the shoulders, locked eyes with me and said ‘Ashley, you have a story and I know you have the key as well.’ And in that moment, I had a deep feeling of ‘yes’.  This feeling was a deep knowing, a truth that I had been searching for, a shaking in my bones.  Now, I don’t know when or quite how this will all happen.  And I’m unsure of just how the content will flow.  But I’ve known the title for over five years now.

Five and a half years ago, my life was in a very different place.  I was married.  I had a job managing a running store.  I owned a beautiful home in Carbondale, Colorado amidst the Rocky Mountains.  And I was very unhappy.  I was unhappy because I had a longing inside of me that I could not quite fill.  In the year leading up to that, I had taken a new job and moved into a new house, hoping that those would fill the hole.  And they didn’t.  I was unhappy because I knew that I wasn’t being loved in the way in which I yearned to be loved.  I knew that I had to make a change but I was scared to death.  There were times that I had thoughts of veering my car off the side of one of those steep mountain roads I used to drive, thinking that might be slightly easier that disappointing people.  Because one of my issues is that I really hate letting people down and I thought of all of the people that I would upset by making this change—-my husband, his family, my family, our friends, my boss.

But I did it.  I decided at first that I would simply just spend the winter back in West Virginia.  I would live on my own for a while and make decisions for myself only, take a writing class and just see how it all felt.  I had always hated the snow anyway.  I had been back in the rolling hills for not even two weeks when I knew that this move was not temporary.  I knew this for the simple fact that living on my own, being alone, made me feel less lonely than my marriage made me feel.

And so this is what my new life looked like at this point:  I was going to file for divorce.  I was waitressing at a chain restaurant.  I was living in a tiny garage apartment.  I was still scared to death but that feeling was fading a little every day.

Around this time, during the holidays, my parents and I went to go visit Cricket.  After the death of my grandmother, when I was just out of high school, my grandfather met, fell madly in love with and married Cricket.  Their love story was beautiful but entirely too brief as my grandfather passed away about five years later.  Cricket remains an important part of our family and one of my favorite people on this planet.  To describe her, I’ll simply tell you that she’s going skydiving for her 85th birthday.  But what I was doing during that time was probably a little confusing to her.

Making the changes in my life as I was doing was not quite the norm for people of my parents’ generation and definitely not for Cricket’s.  You go into a career and you stick with it, you go into a marriage and you make it work.  Sometimes those things contain everything you could possibly want out of life.  Or sometimes your longings and dreams might go unattended and that’s OK too.  But I had decided that ‘just OK’ no longer worked for me.

So there we were, standing in the kitchen, Cricket and I, and I was telling her about my divorce, my waitressing job, my little apartment and she looked at me and said:

“I’m sorry about…….your life.”

I looked at her and a smile spread over my face.  “I’m not,” I replied.

Hanging out with my friends a few days later, I relayed this story to them and my best friend looked at me and said that the title of my future book should be “I’m Sorry About Your Life. Love, Cricket.”

And so it is.  Because in every great story, there is a hero.  And that is the moment in which I decided to become my own hero.  Since that time, I’ve been writing a new story.  I’ve had some soaring victories in which I have discovered my strengths and created success for myself.  I’ve made some bad decisions; I’ve learned some hard lessons that stemmed from pain.  I’ve had plenty of humorous anecdotes to lighten these pages. I open new chapters and close others.   I’ve added some important main characters and disposed of others.  And I keep writing this story that is truly my own; I keep turning that little key inside of me.

Change is hard and it’s scary and it has this way of making us feel as though the very earth beneath us is shifting.  But a necessary change comes when the earth is already shaking and trembling beneath you and the longing that screams inside of you can no longer be ignored.  And when you heed to that call, perhaps you can feel as if you are finally turning a page of your own story.  Or better yet, throw out the book that was once a tragedy, or one that was simply too boring to read, or one in which you only appeared as a minor character.  And you write a new one in which you are the hero and you choose your own adventure.  You work towards writing an ending in which you are the main character and this character finds a ground that is stable; you don’t stop writing until the longing inside of you starts to fill slowly with every chapter.  And these chapters keep unfolding and these words become your truth and the ending, though yet unseen, is something that you are so excited to see.



I fell in love with the song the first time I heard it.  It’s called Azawade by The Toure-Raichel Colletive.  It’s an eight minute, instrumental song filled with meanderings of guitar strings, graceful piano, gentle tapping percussion and some humming.  Right away it made me want to move and so I began to use it in yoga, on my own and also in my classes.  The song seemed to make me want to flow in my movements as if to feel every single beat of that music make its way into my muscle fibers.

A few months later, on a warm July day, two friends and I made our way to Athens, Ohio for an afternoon to meet up with another friend who lived there.  We went to a couple breweries and had a nice dinner and then tried to figure out what we were going to do with the remaining hours of our visit before heading home.  Well, the moon was full, the night had descended and it had come up in conversation that one of my friends had never been skinny dipping.  And so we hopped in the car and started the drive out to a lake that was a little ways out of town.  I was in the passenger seat and so the driver requested that I play some music.  I put on Azawade and we put the windows down.

We drove along winding roads, headlights marking the way and we didn’t say a word the entire eight minutes that the song played.  The warm wind filtered through the windows.  When we arrived at the deserted public beach area of the lake, we parked the car, walked onto the sand and then stripped our clothes off and we ran squealing into the water.  We swam around for about 20 minutes in the black water, swimming through the full moon beams that danced on the surface.  We laughed and did flips and handstands.  And then we began the two hour drive back home, the water from the lake rolling off our hair and the sand still plastered to our bodies.

For the days that followed that, whenever I heard the first few notes of the song Azawade, my mind would immediately drift to that night.  This song, that memory.  And I would feel a joy that was absolute both in that moment and in the present one.

And then, months later, Azawade wandered across my playlist while I was hanging out with this fella that I had been seeing.  We were in each other’s arms, whispering and laughing gently and our words seemed to dance along with the song.  Afterwards I told him, ‘I now have a new favorite memory that goes along with this song.’  For a while I made this the truth.  And then when things with said fella didn’t work out, the song became too painful to listen to and I began to skip past it on my playlists, turning away from the good memory that had gone bad.

Some more time has passed since then, and this morning as I unrolled my mat and pressed shuffle on a playlist, the sounds of Azawade began to fill the air around me.  My first inclination was to bolt, to skip the song.  But then something strange happened….I decided that instead I wanted to reclaim it.

And so I moved once more, following those guitar strings and gentle keyboard keys wherever they took me. I closed my eyes and began to move back to that night in Athens, that night where I bathed in a lake filled with full moon reflections and laughter.  It was a night where I felt absolutely sure that all was right in the universe.  And it’s times like this when I truly feel joy.

I began to think….How often had I done this—-allowed my light, my good to be overshadowed?  How easy had it became to just give away my happy to those who did not deserve it?

It was then that I began to think about glory.  Someone once wrote this equation out for me: Joy+Sorrow=Glory.  Sure, joy is awesome, but glory is one step beyond that.  But in order to get to glory, we must go through a little bit of sorrow.  And then glory becomes this whole new thing; it’s an appreciated joy, it’s a reclaimed joy.  And there’s no way to skip directly to glory by bypassing sorrow.  It just doesn’t work that way.

And so my practice this morning became one of glory.  Because there I was,  truly acknowledging all the little pieces of my history that this song had been the soundtrack to…..the joy and the sorrow.  And then I made a decision to let go of the sorrow and to choose joy…and I swear that song sounded sweeter than ever.



When my friend texted me the other day and asked me if I had any books to loan her about self-love, the first response that came to my head was ‘guuurrlll please’.  But they don’t make an emoji for that so instead I went to my bookshelf and found the book that I wanted to loan her and sent her a screen shot of the cover.  Now, this friend is an amazing, incredible person—beautiful to the core, smart, loving, caring and funny.  I love her.  Why would she need that book?  Well, for the same reason that she probably thinks that I am a pretty cool person too (I don’t think she would hang out with me if she didn’t) and I am the one that owns the book.  I think this book has sold quite a few copies.  It’s not just me and my friend that have trouble spreading and giving the love and care and worth to others that we also deny ourselves.

Not giving myself the value and love that I so openly bestow on the people in my life is at the root of the things that hold me back.  It’s what leads me to get involved in unfulfilling relationships with men, it’s what keeps me from truly seizing my place in this world.  It’s the thing that, once I finally accomplish it, will make me feel like I have finally figured things out.  So I strive.  And I know, in the core of my bones, in every tiny little muscle fiber of my body and the beat of my heart, that I know how to do it.  I just don’t always listen to all those things.

But it’s all about the journey right?

So, this book is called “When You Think You’re Not Enough”, which is a fairly cheesy title but it’s filled with pretty great teachings.  Before I let it leave my hands I read through it again as it had been a couple years since I had done so.  There’s a passage which says ‘Ultimately, self-compassion is a series of choices, a moment by moment conscious turning away from that which will harm your spirit toward that which will nourish and sustain you. It is choosing, in any particular situation and over and over again, whether you’ll treat yourself or beat yourself up’.  And I love this passage because it just seems so tangible.  When I look at this whole idea of loving myself, of creating this whole relationship with myself that is healthy and unconditional, it seems like such a big idea.  But knowing that I can make these tiny little decisions, these seemingly small steps that will eventually lead to miles….well that’s a little bit easier to wrap my brain around.

These past few weeks in my life have been a little trying and I’ve had a million little chances to practice these moment by moment dances of ‘turning towards.’  What works for me might not work for you.  We are all a tiny bit different in the things that nourish our spirits, but we are all the same in that we know, somewhere deep inside those bones and muscles and heartbeats, what ‘good’ feels like.  For me, going for a run makes me feel like I have all the strength I need as I urge my feet to keep moving step after step.  Getting onto my yoga mat allows me to clear the cobwebs in my head as I let the rhythm of my practice take hold.  Cooking a nice dinner makes me feel like I can truly take care of myself.  Sitting on the porch, listening to music and having a little cry makes me feel like I can access and then give birth to the swirling emotions in my head.  Sometimes it seems a bit impossible to do these things—-my legs feel weary, the mat intimidates me,  the cupboard is bare and my tears are stuck somewhere I can’t access them.  But when I’m able to turn towards, I feel like I’m getting just a tiny bit closer to this whole notion of taking care and loving me.   And my hope is that eventually, this tiny bit closer, this one little step, might get me to where I want to be.

And it’s a little bit of a cycle and a little bit of ‘faking it until I make it.’  Because it’s the times when I feel the most unlovable and unworthy that I have a hard time lacing up my shoes to go for that run.  But it’s also in those times when I most need to give myself the gift of something that I know will nourish my spirit.  It’s these gifts that slowly teach me that my joy is a battle worth waging. It’s in those times that I have to pick and choose the voices that  I listen to; tuning out the criticism and what ifs and doubts and listening to the one that is gentle yet firm in her belief that I am enough and deserving of my own love.  That voice is the one that gets me to’ turn towards’ and then when I do so,  that voice gets louder, little by little.  And then, hopefully, one day this voice will do most of the talking.  And it will probably say ‘guuuurrrlll please, what took you so long?’


What I Learned from Splash

These past couple of weeks have been a doozy of a time, folks.  You know what I’m talking about…those times where a few things happen that all individually might have kicked your ass but instead of spreading themselves out, they happen all at once and leave you shaking your fist at the sky screaming “Universe, what, pray tell, have I done to you??”.  And then I got the stomach flu.  Sweet.  Eh, I guess I needed a little cleanse.

But alas, all such circumstances led me to my parents’ couch last night, in PJs at 8pm and looking through TV channels for something to watch.  And I landed upon Splash.  It was about that time that my former roommate/forever lifemate texted me to check in.  I told him I was watching Splash.  He asked what channel it was on and I told him it was called Logo, which I had never heard of.  He told me it was a gay/lesbian channel.  I asked him if mermaid/human romance was gay.  He responded that the movie was campy and mermaids were gay.  I told him that I was inspired to crimp my hair like Daryl Hannah.  He thinks I should try it.  But I digress.

For those of you unfamiliar with this cinematic gem of the 80’s, Tom Hanks plays a human named Allen who falls in love with a mermaid named Madison.  Everything is perfect between them except that he has legs and she will only have legs for the next six days before she must return to the ocean during the full moon.  It’s always timing that ruins chances at great relationships, amiright?  And yes, the movie is pretty campy and it made the 1980’s seem like such a long time ago which is a bit depressing but I learned a few things from this movie.

  1. People aren’t always going to understand you when you speak your truth.  Allen begs Madison to tell him her name in her native language and when she does, emitting a high pitched squeal, all the TVs in Bloomingdales explode.  But she tried.  In doing so, she risked being exposed and vulnerable (not to mention an astronomical bill from the electronics department).  But she tried, he listened, and though Allen couldn’t quite understand, he still loved her and didn’t judge her for it.
  2. Wonder and beauty exists in the smallest of things.  Our eyes are just a bit used to tuning them out.  Madison has lived her whole life in the ocean.  So when she steps onto the streets of New York City, everything is absolutely amazing, even the flashing ‘don’t walk’ signs.  When Allen gives her a gift from Tiffany’s, she is absolutely grateful for and in awe of the turquoise box, not even knowing or caring that the true gift lies inside the box.  I started to wonder what my life would look like if I lived my life for a while pretending that I was Madison, seeing all the things of beauty in this world with a fresh set of eyes, scenes that I have taken for granted, moments that I glaze over in my rush to the next.
  3. When you make a mistake, do your best to correct it.  Enter the hapless scientist played by Eugene Levy who succeeds in exposing Madison so that he can become famous and then regrets his decision because he feels like a giant butthead so he helps her escape back to the ocean.  We all make mistakes.  We don’t mean to.  But sometimes we have the wrong goal in mind, or perhaps misguided priorities.  It’s cool.  We weren’t put here to do everything perfect the first time.  Or sometimes even the second, third, etc.    But admitting this little mishaps and adjusting the course of our sails is what makes us grow.  It’s what makes us grow into ‘better’.  But if we never admit that we failed, we never get the chance to rise and our little boat will just sputter without going anywhere.
  4. Choosing love always gets you the key to the kingdom.  Enter the biggest spoiler alert of this blog and perhaps the cheesiest lesson.  The movie ends with Allen having to choose between life on land with his loser brother and boring job or taking a chance with this woman who, let’s admit it, is out of his league.  By choosing Madison, he chooses a completely unknown future, a relinquishing of security, possible heartbreak.  But he trusts his heart.  He dives into the water.  And what awaits him is this underwater kingdom that he never could have imagined.  Totally worth it, right?  I mean we all look at his decision and we’re like “Duh, why wouldn’t he do that?”  But how many times have we all let a little fear of the unknown keep us from taking a chance at what could bring us great joy?
  5. Mermaids do exist.  And this is where growing up with movies from the 80’s could have totally set up for failure.  But alas, I’ll keep searching.