Choosing Courage to Ride the Wave of Vulnerability

“Rather than deny our vulnerability, we lean into both the beauty and agony of our shared humanity. Choosing courage does not mean that we’re unafraid, it means that we are brave enough to love despite the fear and uncertainty.” ~Brene Brown

Years ago, a man I was dating could sense I was holding back and my block was preventing us from moving forward. He said to me, “you know, it’s okay for you to be vulnerable.” You would think Thor directed a lightening bolt at our clasped hands because I bolted. Tucked my tail and ran like a terrified puppy. By the mere thought of sharing with him my battered heart and letting him see my pain. Mind you, I literally did make a quick exit, and there’s no way to elegantly hoof it when still wearing a walking cast. The hobble is not dignified or efficient.

He became the first man I ghosted. *I know, I know….* And it was brutal! I was such a coward. He’s a good man, and he treated me remarkably well, and he deserved far better than what I gave him. And it was painful for him. Both of us were clumsily trying to navigate dating, both having experienced similar trauma of discovering our significant others were unfaithful to us. Years later, we reconnected.

Funnily enough, he reached out to me after seeing a young woman hobbling on crutches which reminded him of our first date. We are friends…. after he read me the riot act for disappearing. Which I accepted. He’s happily married to a wonderful woman and they share a healthy, beautiful, blended family.

And then the day came,

when the risk

to remain tight

in a bud

was more painful

than the risk

it took

to blossom.

Risk ~ Anaïs Nin

And I’m often still that clumsy, scared puppy when comes the terrifying thunderclap or being called upon to share my intimate parts of me with others. However, here in Oaxaca, that’s more likely to be fireworks exploding overhead than actual thunder…..

Costa Rica Surfing Nosara Vulnerability

I’m currently dealing with a lot of vulnerability and exposure in a way that I normally tend to work very hard to avoid. I’m absolutely, definitely, without a question the person who will cut and run and avoid authentic connection in almost every scenario in effort to avoid being emotionally eviscerated again. Even though, so far, I’ve proven that you will be able to recover from every loss, broken heart, abandonment, and betrayal. It doesn’t always feel like that is possible, but I have a 100% recovery rate.

Here’s a rub, though: there are times during which channeling massive courage for authenticity and vulnerability will not be rewarded by receipt of the outcome you put yourself out on the very ledge of exposure for…. and it sucks so hard! Aaaaah, that feeling is the worst when you’re emotionally naked, and the lights are on, and… and… and… no.

A few years ago, when I was nearly hysterical from what I was then experiencing as a vulnerability exposure fail, a friend said to me, “it’s scary and it’s hard to show people our ugly.” Yes. It’s scary. And it’s hard. It’s hard to constantly live in your truth. Because when you’re being truthful and authentic all of your time, you’re going to turn off some people because they don’t tune in to that vibration. But it’s not easy, and again, the fear factor, for me, is intense.

Also, trust. Can I trust my instincts regarding this person? Can I trust this person? If I open up my heart, is this person going to take that vulnerability to hurt me? Because… that’s what happened before.

I’ve held myself back. I lose out on the possibility of the kind of connection I want, and I also deny someone the opportunity to receive all the weird, wonderful, quirky, and beautiful parts of me that lie beneath the surface of fear and anxiety. But the part of me that craves that connection and depth doesn’t call to me as loud as the part of me that begs me to stay closed to protect myself.

I learned that fear through a traumatic abusive relationship. I came to accept I wasn’t worth more than what he told me I was worth, through his hurtful words and his injury afflicting actions. Then, another one, this time a true wolf in a friendly skin told me I hadn’t come as far in my recovery and ability to protect myself from a predator (when you learn your ex is a convicted felon as he goes back to prison… yeah that happened). Trusting myself, and trusting others… that’s hard. It’s scary.

Costa Rica Surfing Nosara Vulnerability

I keep coming back to this picture from when I went on a (divine) yoga retreat in Costa Rica a couple of years ago. When my friend snapped this picture of me, I had no idea she was even there. I had just been wacked in the back of my head by my longboard on what was one of my most awkward falls I ever made when surfing – and just believe me when I say I wipe out better than I ride.

But my smile is so real. There was nothing anticipated or commanded. This sunburned mug is radiant with sheer joy. If I had let my anxiety and self-conscious nervousness about how not-good I am at surfing get the better of my earnest desire to ride those perfect baby swells (I know my limits of my skill level), I wouldn’t have ever known how delicious and fun Costa Rica waves are for long boarding.

One of the things about surfing – especially at the beginning, is learning how to read the wave and determine which ones, and when, are good to ride. Because I don’t get to surf often, I miss quite a few, and in the split second of hesitation, that wave is gone. But there’s more. There’s always more!

“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.” ~Brene Brown

When you’re told repeatedly you’re not worthy of love and sincere affection without conditional approvals, your mind can hold onto those messages. Despite a hell of a lot of work I’ve done to reclaim myself and recover, I still have triggers. But those aren’t my truths – only as much as I want to allow myself to continue to subscribe to that story. I still have doubts. It’s like that song from Bob Dylan, Just Like a Woman.

Whether puppy or little girl, I have to willfully force myself to stand present in front of someone, whether a new friend – usually a man wanting to build an emotional connection – I have to resist and push down the initial reaction to run and choose to be courageous. I’m a good emotional runner. But a terrible physical runner. Too many ankle and foot fractures.

And so also goes with finding the courage to continue to take the exposure and painful anxiety of vulnerability. We get better at what we practice. Sometimes the ride will be good. Sometimes we get knocked in the head by a surfboard. Right now I’m feeling the knock in my heart. But I really don’t want to miss any more waves because I hesitated.

Vulnerability is not for anyone faint hearted! If you want to live authentically and with appropriate vulnerability, you have to be a warrior. A love warrior! And better yet, be ready for the ride.

XO,

Jennifer

Nosara Costa Rica Surfing Vulnerability .jpg
Follow:

How to Support a Grieving Friend This Holiday Season

Chances are, like me, you probably have someone close to you who is experiencing his or her first holiday season without someone dearly beloved and painfully missed. Cliches exist for a reason, and what they say about the holidays being an especially lonely time for many people certainly rings as true as the Salvation Army bells outside your local CVS, Winn Dixie, Galleria, you name it. If you have a friend who lost someone this year, a pretty sure bet is your friend is in some extra need of love and spirit this holiday season. But how, right? How can you support a grieving friend when navigating your own holidayness?

You’ve probably heard and read about “holding space” for someone. What does that really mean, anyway? Well, I’ve determined it means a lot! The gist of it is how you can support someone in need. Without judgment, no matter how well intended. But, here are four things you can do to hold space for your grieving friend and make his or her holiday season less like a vacuum and bring some love into that void your friend is surely feeling. Really, anything will be recognized and appreciated.

Ways to hold space for a grieving friend this holiday season

Snail mail. Send a card. Go ahead and send a standard holiday card in your big batch. But find another card – not a sympathy card – something more nondescript. Write out a brief note to let your friend know you’re thinking about her. The card is great because it’s physical. It can be touched and held. Reread if wanted. And doesn’t force your friend to face a conversation she may not want to have. I’ll tell you this: there were numerous times I wasn’t excited to talk to people, even people I dearly loved. It exhausted me when merely getting through a day exhausted me. But I loved, and for a loooooong time I held onto, every single card. Another reason the card works so well is because it’s a break from the influx of happy holiday cards. Don’t get me wrong; I loved those, too.

 

Invitations help. Perhaps my busiest holiday calendar ever was the Christmas of 2012. Planning my party attire and which cocktail dress I would wear for each party was an excellent antidote and distraction. Which I know contradicts what I wrote in Number 1! But it helped. I did not accept every invitation, but I sure as heck appreciated and felt included and loved with every invitation I received. When making an invitation, be specific. When someone would invite me for lunch I’d vaguely respond. But when someone said, “I’d like to take you to lunch on Tuesday, are you available at 11:00? I’ll pick you up and we can go to the hot bar at Whole Foods….” I accepted. What she did was she eliminated any burden for me to plan and also created a specific image for me to look forward to.

 

Doorstep treats. If you live in the same area, consider dropping by with a bouquet of fresh flowers or a pot of herbs (Trader Joe’s makes my flower world go round). There’s something about fresh botanicals in a living space that makes it feel more vibrant and beautiful. Not into flowers? How about a magazine, some baked treats from a cookie exchange, or a box of herbal tea. It would be acceptable to bring them by when your friend is home as well as dropping off on the door step to greet your friend when she returns home. If you don’t live nearby and you have the budget, a small something, whether a book, a gift card to take herself out for a cup of coffee or tea, flowers,…. Will go a long way. Something to encourage her self care.

 

Pick up the phone. Even if you leave a voice mail, and yes I dodged some calls because I was lacking energy, consumed with grief, you name it…. But for every voice mail I received those words embraced me as fully as a hug. Drop a quick line or send a text message to simply say, “I’m thinking about you.” You don’t need to be a close friend to reach out. In fact, some of the unexpected contacts were among the most touching.

 

I found the first year following my dad’s unexpected death excruciating and crushing, particularly that first run of weeks from Thanksgiving through New Year’s. There was not enough fudge, cookies, and wine to get me through the season. I was lonely, but I also wanted distance… my emotions were as volatile as winter weather and storm patterns. Too much time with anyone would render an eruption of some sort. Too much time alone lead to hours in an unmade bed, greasy hair, and well, you can see where I’m going with this. It wasn’t pretty. But those were all reasons why I needed to know from my friends that I still mattered to them and they were still standing by my side. I am grateful for my friends who understood I wanted to share stories one minute, then cry another, and needed to be alone the next minute and respected my needs… and understood my moods were not to be taken personally or a result of them.

 

I was then, and still am, terrible at asking for help. When I most needed gentle love, I was the least able to ask for it. The grief was too strong, and I was too focused on trying to look like I had my you-know-what together. I could see it in my friends’ faces. They were concerned and they wanted to love me and comfort me. I thank God for my friends who did not forget me during their holiday hustle. Your friend will fell and will remember the kindness and love you give.

 

Having deeply reflected on what could have been said or done to help me, I believe there is no “right” thing to say or to do. There’s no fool proof recipe – this isn’t a Toll House cookie. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways you can stand up – or sit down – with and support your friend who is grieving a lost loved one this season. Acknowledge the loss and the pain. If she opens up, listen. Just listen. If you know the loved one, share stories.

 

By being “there” and showing up to support a grieving friend in a way that is authentically you to offer your space, thoughts, and energy, you’re going to give one of the best gifts of the season.

 

Have a very merry and lovely holiday this year. Lots of love to you.

 

XO, Jennifer

Ways to hold space for a grieving friend this holiday season

Follow:

So You Want to Hike Half Dome? Here are Some Tips How!

If you have the slightest enjoyment from and love for hiking, I’m willing to wager you have a dream list of trail heads. I’m willing to double down and bet Half Dome is on your list, too. Who hasn’t sighed (and salivated) over Ansel Adams’s images of that monolith standing over Yosemite Valley? This hike continues to rise in popularity, and while the permit system to hike Half Dome has done much to protect the trail path and reduce crowding (thereby helping bring an overall better experience for hikers), actually obtaining a permit feels very much akin to the quest for Wonka’s golden ticket!

I tried two prior seasons to obtain a permit and was unsuccessful. I finally got my cable permit for September 30, 2016! Spoiler alert, I ultimately hiked Half Dome with a backcountry permit (a calamity that will be fully explored and expressed – hysteria – in another post… another spoiler alert, best to probably not soldier up and still attempt with an acute case of food poisoning).

Half Dome Summit

Logistics of the Half Dome Hike

Distance:

  • 14.2 miles round trip via Mist Trail (22.7 km)
  • 16.5 miles round trip via John Muir Trail (26.5 km)
  • 7 miles round trip from Little Yosemite backcountry campground – permit required (11 km)

Other trails by which people can hike to Half Dome include:

  • 20 miles round trip via Glacier Point (32 km)
  • 23 miles round trip via Tenaya Lake (37 km)

Elevation of Half Dome: 8,843 feet (2,695 m)

Total Elevation Gain from Trailhead: 4,800 feet (1,600 m)

Difficulty Rating: Strenuous (yes, it is, and yes, it is so worth it)

Time: average 10 – 14 hours depending on speed and physical condition

Knee Soreness Rating: Those angry mofos are going to ask you for a divorce (but you won’t be sorry, and they will forgive you)

Hiking Half Dome

Permits: Yes! You need a permit to climb the cables and summit hike Half Dome. There is a ranger stationed at the base of Sub Dome checking for your permit. Okay, so the ranger wasn’t there the day I hiked, or the day before, I was told, but I have reliable sources who promised me that was an anomole. The hike up to Sub Dome is beautiful in its own right. But if you have your heart truly set on summiting Half Dome and you don’t have a permit, and the ranger is there, you will be sorely disappointed.

I think the NPS site does an excellent job of providing information on the permit process. I used the data points provided (see here for popularity by day based on prior year permits) to strategize the days I would apply for my permit. A maximum of 300 permits are distributed each day during the season the cables are up, distributed for 225 day hikers (see here for information on securing a day hike permit) and 75 backpackers (see here for information about overnight wilderness permits).

  • Preseason Lottery: This occurs in the month of March. You can select up to seven dates, ordering preference, and request up to six permits for each of those dates. If you have multiple people with whom you’ll be hiking, it’s a good idea to hedge your bets and each person apply. However, permits are not transferable, so make sure you have a solid commitment from whoever is applying as the leader/alternate because either the trip leader or alternate leader designated on the application must carry and present the permit to the ranger. If you know you absolutely must plan ahead for your trip to Yosemite, this will be your best permit application option.
  • Daily Lottery: If you’re the type who lady luck loves and fortune favors, then my darling friend, this is your type of gamble! A portion of the permits are distributed through the preseason lottery, but based on cancellation of preseason permits and excess availability, there are, on average, about 50 or so day permits that can be had through the daily lottery. You apply for your desired date between 12:00 am – 1:00 pm two days prior, and you will receive an email the next morning (the day prior to your desired date) if you were successful. You also receive the “womp womp wommmmp” email (which I have a collection of these) to notify you if you were not successful, so you’ll know either way. If you plan to be in Yosemite several days you can do this each day until you either receive the permit or run out of days. Of the five days I applied, I ultimately DID receive a permit for September 30, the same day as my back country permit. But, because I didn’t receive the email until after I gave up my campsite in Yosemite to begin arrangements for my overnight hike (no cell service at the Hogdgon Meadow Campground), I was committed to having to hike to Little Yosemite Valley for the overnight stay in the backcountry camp.
  • Backpacker’s Permit: Most people hike Half Dome as a day hike, but if you have the equipment and the interest to backpack and stay overnight in Little Yosemite Valley, you can apply for a wilderness permit. From the research I did in anticipation of all the ways I could snag a permit, it generally appears this is your most solid bet if you are wiling to abandon all expectations of being a Curry Village glamper and can pack in (and out) your camping gear to stay overnight a night or two in the backcountry. While primitive, the campground is nicely maintained, is in a beautiful clearing about a mile from Nevada Falls, and really closes the gap between your starting point and Half Dome summit. You apply for the wilderness permit to camp in Little Yosemite, and you request the Half Dome permit when you apply for the Little Yosemite wilderness permit. You can do this online, or like I did, walk into the wilderness office in Yosemite Village. I walked in at 10:45 am, gave them my information and requested dates, and was told to come back at 11:00 am. Fifteen minutes later I had the permit. I was going to hike Half Dome!

So You Got Your Permit. Yahoooooo!! DANCE PARTY YAAAAAAY! Now What? Some Tips!

Bug repellent. Depending on the time of year, the mosquitoes are more notorious than BIG and RBG, combined. I hiked in late September and had not a single bite, but there were gnats that were terribly annoying. If you are hiking in warm weather, bring some repellent.

Bathrooms are located at the Happy Isles, below Vernal Falls, and pit toilets are at the top of Nevada Falls. Once you pass Nevada Falls, hold it or get comfortable with nature (or take a mini detour to the Little Yosemite campground where there are more pit toilets).

Start as early as you can. In fact, if I did it again as a day hike, I’d probably start around 2 or 3 in the morning. The trail is very well marked, particularly so at the start of the trail, so you can get good distance in before you would need to look for cues (footprints – get low, but not Trump low – and look for footprints on the path). I write this having hiked a significant portion in the dark on a moonless night (literally on a new moon).

Gloves! When you get to the cables, use gloves! Whatever you do, do not use leather or suede gloves, and absolutely stay away from fingerless gloves. I bought these gloves at Home Depot for under $5. They off gassed like crazy but they were like fly paper on those cables. On my way down the cables I encountered a woman wearing fingerless gloves and her fingers were getting torn up. We were near the bottom, and I offered a trade to her. She didn’t put up any argument. We swapped and even the short distance I had to go down with the fingerless gloves, my fingers were red, raw, and quite sore. You want something that covers the entirety of your hands and that is going to hold tight to those cables. There was a big pile of discarded gloves past hikers “donated” to the common good, but I read urban legends of rodents occasionally using that pile for beds. Yosemite is currently in a plague situation so if you must, you must, but if you can plan, plan to bring ridiculously grippy gloves. You’ll be glad to have them.

gloves for half dome cables

Layer! Bring a light layer. When you are hiking, you will be warm. The climb is consistently up an incline with some significant switchback action in some portions, mainly Mist Trail’s Vernal Falls stairs, switchbacks up to Nevada Falls, and the entirety of Sub Dome come to blistering mind. But, one you get to the top of Sub Dome, you’ll start to cool off. If you want to enjoy your well earned and deserved time up top of Half Dome, you’ll want a layer. You’ll also appreciate the layer if you are descending in the late afternoon and will be hiking down in the dark. Bring an extra pair of socks, too. Your toes will love you (and may be great intermediaries and character references for you between your knees and you afterwards).

Compression socks. The night after, consider sleeping in compression socks to help reduce swelling and soreness. I wore mine a couple nights afterwards while sleeping and whereas I tend to swell up after long hikes, I had much less swelling than I did following this summer’s Havasupai hike.

Have good shoes. Those Vernal Falls steps. Yes, eventually… eventually… as with all seemingly unending torturous things, will end. You can save your knees a lot of pain and take the longer John Muir Trail – which is still remarkably lovely and will give you gorgeous views – and bypass the Nevada Falls switchbacks and the Vernal Falls stairs. The Vernal Falls stairs on Mist Trail will be slippery depending on time of day and year. Make sure your shoes, in general, have really good traction. You’re really going to want to have ridiculously grippy shoes when you get to those cables.

On the subject of safety…. 

A climbing harness. So, I’m going to pull out my soapbox. Do you wear a seat belt when riding in a car? Maybe not, but you should. You should also seriously consider a harness for the cables. The way I see it is if I wear a helmet when I ride a bike, when I ride a horse, if I SCUBA dive with a backup regulator (which I NEEDED to use along a reef wall in Belize), if I wear a life vest when water skiing, why would I not use a climbing harness when climbing 400 feet up a very, very, very steep, smooth, granite rock face? I had one person on the trail actually try to dissuade me from using my harness, telling me it would slow me down and wouldn’t stop me from sliding down the cable to the lower pole, blah blah blah…. I have health, car, renters, home owner, life, and pet insurance, so it’s safe to say I’m a safety girl. SO much a safety girl. I’m so glad I had the harness and double carabiners to clip over the cables (some people suggest a via ferrata harness but I borrowed my friend’s climbing harness and she helped me fashion a sufficient setup that included two carabiners so I was always secured to a cable, even when transferring cable poles. My harness did not slow me down any more than my own anxiety did. Looking back, I can remember how skeeved out the exposure effects got me. I don’t like heights. And knowing I was secured to those cables was good for me and for everyone else on those cables with me. So consider what your limits are and what you are going to need to be confident and safe. Not only for your own well being but for the other climbers, too. I was not the only one I saw with a harness set up, either.

Do not attempt in inclement weather. If you see storm clouds in the sky coming in, if it is raining, don’t attempt the summit. Half Dome is one gigantic lightening rod. Granite is insanely slippery when it is wet. Most of the deaths on Half Dome are directly attributed to lightening strikes and falling off the cables from slipping on the wet granite.

Water. Water. Water. Plan to carry at least three liters of water with you, and plan to drink at least five liters. You can get potable water in two places along the trail, but the last place where you will be able to refill your water on the way up (and the first place on your way down) is at the bathroom stop at the bridge right before Vernal Falls. From Vernal Falls, you’re looking at about 12 miles, round trip, without access to potable water. Hydrate good and well before the hike and on your way up to Vernal Falls, refill at Vernal Falls, and refill on your way down upon return to Vernal Falls footbridge. If you have a filtration and treatment setup, you can get water from the Merced River, but unless you actually want to give yourself giardia – and I can think of better ways to lose a few pounds – don’t attempt to drink untreated water from that river.

Snacks. You’re going to burn through a lot of calories. Have plenty of snacks to eat during the hike. If possible consider having a carb heavy supper, similar to you would if running a half or full marathon. Also, treat yourself to something excellent to celebrate up top. I had a mini container of champagne and a tiny charcuterie and a supremely dark chocolate bar. Unfortunately, I was not feeling well, so decided to save the champagne to celebrate back on level land.

Aside from these tips, remember to pack out everything out, and remember to have sooooo much fun! I swore I would never hike Half Dome again, but three weeks later, I’m already wanting to go back! With proper planning and preparation, your Half Dome hike can be enjoyable, surpass your expectations, and deliver an amazing experience shared with your companion or savored solo, like me!

Let’s hear from you! I provided a list of tips to do, but I also have a near calamitous list of what not to do. What are your questions of Half Dome? What else would you add for recommendations to others seeking to capture this experience? Please comment below and share. 🙂

Hiking Half Dome

Follow:

An Amelie Memory and What Does it Mean to Take the Hit As a Gift

Missing Paris, and I decided to pop in Amelie for a little reminder of a beautiful, brief respite of solitude and beauty in an otherwise emotionally tumultuous time in my life, and one of the last points in time I ever felt wholly optimistic. Soon after, a fated meeting with someone resulted in a sequence of events, after which, I have been holding onto a certain amount of cynicism.

I’m not happy about it, and not resigned to an indefinite state, but right now, it is what it is. There is a limited, stunted, amount of vulnerability and how much of myself I will open up to others. I miss the me who wasn’t so suspicious and guarded. I miss the me who was optimistic and hopeful when meeting someone new.

Paris Eiffel Tower Take the hit as a gift

A quote from the movie said by Monsieur Dufayel (Glass Man) “So, my little Amélie, you don’t have bones of glass. You can take life’s knocks. If you let this chance pass, eventually, your heart will become as dry and brittle as my skeleton. So, go get him, for Pete’s sake!

To me, this sweet little gem of a film illustrates vulnerability, taking risks, and putting one’s self out in the world, even if that means uncertainty and the unknown. Last week, somewhere I heard “take the hit as a gift.” I really cannot remember where, and it’s entirely possible this was a line from one of the movies I half consciously watched while trying to sleep on my flight from CDG to PHL…. Maybe I hallucinated it in my sleep deprived state during the 48 hours I subsisted on about five hours of sleep and the kind of jet lag that makes a person see triple.

Follow:

NEVER

When I was a little girl, I could quote Splash, for I was so in love with Madison the Mermaid. As a grown woman, I can quote Annie Hall, for I am so in love with everything that is Diane Keaton – she occupies a majority of my Girl Crush Pinterest board and I lost my mind when meeting her this year – I squeaked. A grown woman. Self sufficient. And I squeaked. I’m so ashamed.

…. and the other reason of my obsession (yes, yes, ok, ok, I cannot get enough of – and sort of find comfort in – the massive neuroses occupying Woody’s characters). Really… don’t ever let me get started. Your only blessing for brevity in this message is I have to wash my greasy roots and get my butt to work. 

Follow: