This is our place

Every day the sea

blue gray green lavender

pulls away leaving the harbor’s

dark-cobbled undercoat

—from “Tides” by Mary Oliver

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This morning I laid in bed and gazed out of the sliding glass doors that overlooked the sparkling Atlantic Ocean. Orange, blue and lavender layered the November sky. I laid tucked under the sheets, holding hands with Andrew and following the in and out of my breath. Good morning, sea.

I listened to the sound of the ocean, the waves crashing on the shore. When I need to feel grounded, I go to the mountains. When I need to feel free, I go to the beach. I think Andrew and I were both craving a sense of peace. We found it in the ebb and flow of the sea, in the endless walks we took along the shore several times each day, in watching our dog Molly chase sandpiper birds and plunge her black and white spotted chest into the sea’s salty waters. Free and unabandoned, she let her wild mild lead her. I think dogs were put on this earth to teach us humans how to let go.

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On our first night at the beach, Andrew and I walked behind Molly, hand-in-hand, our pants cuffed above our ankles. We walked toward the setting sun, a ball of orange thatslowly slipped below the horizon. Andrew always reaches out for my hand—on the couch while we’re watching TV, in the car on our way to our next adventure, in bed while we sleep. Our hands always seem to find each other. Hello, I’m here. I love you. Andrew is always there. Present. With me.

During these three days that seem to go by too quickly, I am in the present, living in the moment. I do not think about this past year or the future that will come. It’s as if it’s all been erased from my mind. Here, nothing matters. I read my book and hours slip by. We sip mimosas and stare at the ocean. We play a guessing game of time.

It feels like 8 o’clock.

No, it’s 6:30.

It’s always earlier than we think.

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When I’m here, I don’t wear makeup, even though I’ve brought my staples: mascara, concealer, lipstick. They sit in my bag untouched. I do not smear on concealer to cover the purple circles under my eyes. It’s just me. Raw. Uncovered. Natural. Authentic. No masks. No camouflage to hide my fatigue. No red lipstick to make me feel more put together than I sometimes feel. My hair is a mix of sand and sea and salty air. I do not waste time styling it. There are grains of sand between my toes. I wear yoga pants cuffed past my ankle and a hooded sweatshirt. Bras are optional.

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Atlantic Beach, this place, it’s special to me. The first time I came here was 2011, 10 months after I left my ex-husband. Back home, my world was falling apart. I came here to escape it. Three nights. Four days. Just me and my dog, Yoshi. My rock. My anchor. It was late April. We watched every sunrise and every sunset together. We explored seaside towns and drove with the windows down, taking in big gulps of sea air. I was inconsolably lonely. What I remember most about those days was how quiet it was in our hotel room. The silence was deafening. I didn’t speak to anyone for four days. I ate meals alone in my hotel room. Slept alone under the cold bleached sheets. Woke up alone to my room aglow in the morning’s sunrise.

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And yet, it was also one of the most nurturing times in my life. I came there to heal. I was taking care of me by allowing myself to toss aside all the rules I had written in my head about how I thought my life would have been or should have been. And I gave myself the freedom to wander, discover new places with Yoshi, get in the car and see where it leads me. What I found was so much beauty and peace. I vowed on that trip that I would never share this place with anyone else. It was mine and Yoshi’s sacred haven. Bringing someone here would create memories, and memories meant I’d carry them with me forever. I couldn’t endure another heartbreak. No, I couldn’t risk it. I was so afraid that the next man I allowed into my life would only bring me pain—just like all the others.

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Me with my anchor. (2011)

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Pals.

I remember crying almost the entire four-hour drive home. What did I have to go back to? An empty house. An empty heart. I didn’t want to leave behind this peace I cultivated over the four days. I didn’t know how to take it with me. When I came home, I climbed into bed and turned on the TV. Oprah was interviewing Shania Twain about her failed marriage.

Four months later, Andrew and I went on our first date. Five more years pass and here I am, happily married, connected in mind, body and spirit with Andrew and grateful for every moment I have with him. Several times a day, he’ll say or do something to make me pause and think I love this man deeply. He loves me deeply. Yesterday it was when he put his hand on my thigh when we were driving to the coast. This morning it was when we were lying in bed, holding hands, with the sun’s morning rays illuminating our hotel room with white light. I told Andrew last year, when I first brought him and our dog Molly here, how special this place is to me. I shared with him all of my favorite places, and together, we discovered new ones. We ate in a new restaurant that’s now our go-to, wandered in different parts of town, explored the edges of the coast. We honored my old memories, but also made new ones. This is no longer my place; this is our place.

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My family.

 

 

 

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False alarm

Not pregnant.

It sounds so harsh, cold, direct, without feeling.

Can’t the makers of pregnancy tests come up with better language—something less clinical? Instead of a plus or minus sign or one pink line or two, there should be a happy face or sad face, like an emoji, a symbol that better captures the mood of the occasion. Instead, we’re given: pregnant or not pregnant.

I remember a friend telling me last year how trying to get pregnant is like a roller coaster. Now I get it.

I was so sure I was pregnant this time. I had the classic symptoms, all of which mimicked the same symptoms I had the first time I was pregnant. It’s amazing how the body can trick the mind, the heart.

I had everything planned out. I’d announce the results to my husband on his birthday. What a gift. I’d share the news with my parents at Thanksgiving, maybe at the dinner table after my dad says grace and we’re all still holding hands.

Monday morning, as I was taking the pregnancy test out of its pink foil wrapper, my heart was pounding. It was 4:30 a.m. I could not sleep. When I saw a streak of red blood on the toilet paper, my heart sank. I had already set the timer on my iPhone. Three minutes. I brushed my teeth while standing over the test, sitting on the edge of the bathtub, and wishing that the pink double lines would appear in the window. Within seconds, a single line popped up. First Response wasted no time delivering the news to me. False alarm.

I slipped the test back in its wrapper and shoved it in the garbage under last night’s dinner scraps and half-torn junk mail. No tears came. I was just angry. Suddenly, I felt heavy. Before this morning, I felt lighter.

Life felt different the last few days as I carried around this hope, trying to stay positive. Andrew and I were both hopeful and certain. We laughed more. Something good awaited us.

The night before I was ironing clothes in our living room while Andrew was watching a marathon of “The Empire Strikes Back.” What if everything starts falling into place? I asked him. Smiling, he glanced over at me. I saw hope and excitement in his face.

I thought this was our something good.

That Monday morning I grabbed my notebook and laid down on the couch with my favorite gray blanket, soft like a lamb’s ear. In that moment, I just needed comfort. The only sound was our wooden chimes on the balcony rhythmically clinking together. I laid on the couch, emptying my mind into my notebook. It was 5:20 a.m. and still dark outside. The street light cast its amber glow on the parking lot, and I sat there contemplating my future, trying to make sense of it all, hoping I wasn’t going to break today.

I decided to go for a run. The moment my feet hit the sidewalk tears streamed down my face as I ran into the darkness and the quiet of the early morning. I didn’t feel like I was running to anything; instead, I was running away.

It takes an ocean not to break. – The National

Instead of a single line, or minus, or “not pregnant” pregnancy tests should say something like “I’m sorry” or “It’ll be OK.” And for those who don’t want to get pregnant, they can buy a different line of pregnancy tests that says: “Congrats, you’re not pregnant!”

Even my dog Molly was convinced I was pregnant. She was very clingy this past week, snuggling next to me on the couch, which she hasn’t done in months. When I was pregnant the first time, she constantly laid her head in my lap. Then I read that animals sense when you’re pregnant, and they like to snuggle up to you because your body temperature rises. Looking back, maybe it was just the cooler temps that drew her back to snuggling on the couch with me.

Held on to hope like a noose, like a rope. – The Lumineers

I told Andrew the other night that I cannot take anymore disappointments this year. That if one more bad thing happens, it’s going to crush me. My heart won’t survive it. I wondered how I was going to get through the rest of the week. But then, your best friend writes a post that speaks directly to what you’ve been feeling; a coworker sits with you as you cry at your desk with tissues bawled up in your fist because you just can’t hold it in anymore; your husband brings home Chinese takeout, you hold hands at the table and then curl up on the couch together and watch “Say Anything,” holding onto each other tight; you make cupcakes for your husband’s birthday, share a delicious meal and watch him make a wish; over a four-hour brunch your best friend splits with you a warm cinnamon roll drizzled in caramel and you laugh and cry and lift each other up. Tuesday bleeds into Wednesday, into Thursday, into Friday and you got through it somehow. All of these things, Addison says, are carrying you to the healing.
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In the last couple of weeks, I felt like I had finally made peace with our loss. I surrendered and accepted that this was where I was at. And I was honestly OK with it, whatever the future held.

Every single day last week, people kept telling me how beautiful I looked. Friends, colleagues, even complete strangers. I thought maybe I had pregnancy glow and people could see it. Now I realize what people saw in me was contentment.

I woke up today to cooler morning temperatures. I pulled back the curtains in our bedroom and let the light shine in. I walked throughout our house and threw open every window and breathed in fall. It’s a new week, a new month, a new season, and I’m coming home to peace.

One day you’ll awaken to discover your life is all you wanted and hoped it would be. … You’ll wake up and notice that your past is just as it needed to be. You’ll see where you are today is good. You’ll notice that you laugh a lot, cry a lot, smile a lot.

You’ll look at tomorrow with peace, faith, and hope—knowing that while you cannot control some of what life does, you have possibilities and powers in any circumstance life might bring. The struggle you have lived with for so many years, the struggle in your heart, has disappeared. 

— Melody Beattie, from “Journey to the Heart”

Finding solace among the trees

I do my best thinking in the woods. They’ve become my haven, especially lately.

The woods have always felt like home to me, a place to let my mind wander, to feel the wind on my face, the sun warming my shoulders. The moment I step onto the trail, a soft bed of pine needles beneath my feet, the world around me quiets, and I can just be. Even on my worst days, the second I’m surrounded by towering trees, I can always come back to center, find my footing.

Today was one of those days. I needed solace, and I found it among the pine trees. I come here to think. I also come here not to.

There’s a beautiful forest not far from our house that I’ve grown to love. Few people know about it, so much so that most of the time I have the woods all to myself, and other times, I run into the same familiar faces and their blissful Labs and hound dogs with tired tongues hanging from their mouths.

As I’ve weathered through these past few seasons, so have these hundreds of acres of forest. Together we’ve morphed and changed, parts of us died but new growth came. I was thinking about this today as I walked beneath the trees which seemed to have bloomed over night. The bare branches of winter have been replaced with lush, green. I remember in February, deep in my grief, wondering if spring would ever come.

Walk in the woods from Carla Kucinski on Vimeo.

Growing up, my backyard consisted of hundreds of acres of forest in rural Pennsylvania. Those woods provided the perfect hills for sledding in the winter and produced the most delicious blueberries in the summer that still felt warm from the sun when you popped them in your mouth. I remember going for walks sometimes with my father and getting lost with my sister, and watching the sun set behind the tree line, casting hues of pink and orange across the sky. I suppose that’s where my love of nature began and why it always felt like home to me – and still does.

My appreciation for nature grew deeper in my early 20s when I adopted my first dog as an adult. I’ve been fortunate that both dogs I’ve adopted over the years are both lovers of the woods. When my first dog Yoshi passed away four years ago this month, I sprinkled some of his ashes along one of his favorite trails by a lake and among the creaking, swaying pine trees. Even in his old age with his shaky knees and deteriorating hips, he came to life in those woods, hopping over logs. It was his medicine. When he died, it seemed fitting to return him to the earth, to his favorite place. I remember the day I sprinkled his ashes, the wind kicked up suddenly, and I could feel his spirit there with me. Some days, like today, I can still feel him in the breeze in the middle of the woods. He’s never left me.

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Yoshi and me hanging out on his favorite trail. He died less than a month after this photo was taken.

I have a new doggie companion now, a black Lab and Border collie mix who also has a deep love for woods and hopping logs. When she’s in the woods, she’s at home, too. It’s a magical place for her. She completely loses herself in the experience, chasing squirrels and running after deer. But often times I catch her pausing for moment on the trail, looking up to the sky, scanning the scenery around her. Most of the time she’s listening for squirrel movements, but sometimes I think she’s intentionally stopping to take it all in. She constantly reminds me to rest, to linger, let go and be in the present. Everything is temporary. Tomorrow will be different.

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Molly among the pine trees circa March 2016. Photo by Carla Kucinski.

 

Somewhere in the middle

I’ve been craving calm lately, and rejuvenation. I’ve spent the last few weeks perusing yoga retreat websites, searching for the perfect destination. I needed something restorative but also inexpensive.

Then I heard about Yoga Fest from my yoga teacher, Andrea. The annual day-long retreat in Raleigh features dozens of yoga sessions from meditation to acrobatic yoga. I attended my first Yoga Fest on Saturday, and it turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life. It was a day of releasing for me. I let go of emotions, tensions, judgments. By the end of the day, I felt cleansed, lighter and looser. It was a powerful experience and more than I could have imagined.

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My day started out with an amazing Yin Yoga session with my yoga teacher Andrea. She’s the coolest yogi I’ve ever met. I just adore her! She’s a wonderful teacher. See how happy and relaxed I am after her class? 

The biggest turning point of my day came in the afternoon. Between sessions, I visited the exhibitors’ area and had my aura read for $5 by a woman from a Raleigh yoga studio. I’ve always been fascinated by aura readings and curious about what my own aura looked like. I’m not an expert on the subject of auras, but I’ve been reading about them since I received mine. The best way to describe an aura is it’s a field of energy that surrounds a person and reflects their essence — who they are and what’s happening at their core. The rainbow of colors that appear in an aura are supposed to reveal one’s emotional, physical, spiritual and mental well-being. Since I’ve been dealing with some heavy emotional “stuff” these past two months I was eager to see what my aura would reveal. I placed my hands in the outlines of what looked like two metal fingerprints and within seconds my aura appeared on the screen in front of me.

I studied it for a second and turned to the woman beside me anxiously awaiting her analysis. My aura contained an overwhelming amount of red, which she said represents high energy, creativity and love. “You have a lot of passion,” she said to me. I smiled and nodded. But red, she continued, can also indicate anger, stress and too much thinking and analyzing. She asked if I had been under a lot of stress lately, and I shrugged my shoulders and said, “Not really.” I’ve been managing my stress better at work, doing more yoga and meditation every morning and sleeping well. So no, no stress. She said I have so much energy, creativity and ideas that I want to accomplish, but I’ll never be able to accomplish any of them unless I focus my energy. True. That’s been an ongoing issue.

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“This concerns me,” she said, pointing to a darker area on the screen. I looked closer at the cloudy blob of darkness sitting in the center of my chest. It looked like an ominous, black hole and it was near my heart. I noticed more murky blackness along the edges of my aura, around the crown of my head, but the hole in the center of my heart appeared the densest. “You’re protecting yourself, keeping your emotions closed in,” she said balling her hands into fists and pulling them to her chest. She mentioned illness and grief. I told her I had suffered a great loss in February. She nodded as if she already knew.

It’s been almost two months since my husband and I lost our baby. And it’s a loss unlike anything I have ever felt. It’s a shock to the heart, to the body. Most of all, I grieved the potential, what could have been. Now, what I’m mostly left with is anger. I’ve been through a lot of tough experiences in my life – chronic illness, deaths, divorce – but nothing compares to losing our baby. That black hole, it feels like an abyss. And I was staring directly into it. As I sat there studying my aura on the screen, I saw so much sadness. It’s a strange thing to see your emotions displayed in front of you. It was almost like looking at a self-portrait I had painted. But it’s up to me to change the canvas. The woman who did my reading recommended I meditate more, do some deep meditative breathing and yoga postures to open the chest and release the emotions I’m holding onto. “The gong bath will be good for you,” she continued. “It’ll be interesting to see what your aura is like after the gong.”

Gong bath. I had been hearing about this all day but had no clue what it was, and for some reason I never felt compelled to ask someone. I guess I wanted to be surprised and not go into it with any expectations. With my phone, I took a photo of my aura on the screen, thanked her, and went off to my final yoga class of the day: Cultivating Calm. How appropriate.

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The whole time I was in the class, I couldn’t get the image of my aura out of my head. Every time I tried to concentrate on a particular posture or my breath, my glowing red silhouette with that black hole in the center kept popping up. I kept thinking about how much better I thought I had been doing, how my life was getting back to normal … almost. But I’m still healing. As a friend so eloquently put it, I saw my “true colors,” and it scared me.

“Breathe in possibility and optimism,” the instructor said during our final meditation. “Breathe out fear and doubt.” As I breathed out, I pictured the black hole in my chest leaving my body and light coming in. My closed eyelids trembled as I tried to hold back the tears.

As I waited for the gong bath to begin, I pulled out my phone and Googled “gong bath.” The first result brought up: “A gong bath is a form of sound therapy where the gong is played in a therapeutic way to bring about healing. … The term gong bath means that you are bathed in sound waves, there is no water involved, or clothes removed.” Well, that’s a relief.

I closed my phone and laid down on my yoga mat, waiting to be healed. A woman with thick, blonde curly hair, black and white geometric yoga pants, and an off-the-shoulder black flowing t-shirt entered the room pushing on wheels a gong the size of a Smart car. She suggested lying down on the yoga mat with your head toward the gong and laughed as she told us one of her friends describes the gong bath as a “magic carpet ride.” The idea of floating around on a magic carpet sounded good right about now. The ultimate metaphor for freedom.

She turned off the lights, and as I laid there looking up at the dark, empty ceiling, I kept thinking about the words “healing” and “unreleased grief.” “Give yourself the gift of letting go,” the blonde-hair girl spoke gently into her wireless mic. And with that, the gong bath started. The sounds of the gong began gently like ripples of water, then increased in intensity. I could feel each sound wave reverberate throughout my body. I tried to stay grounded in the present and not let my mind drift, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the past – and that black hole. Eventually, the obsessive thoughts stopped and I let myself just be.

I’m not sure how long the gong bath lasted. Ten minutes? Fifteen? When the gong music stopped, I laid there waiting for something to happen to me. Was it over? Am I healed? What am I supposed to be feeling? Do I feel any different? With the lights still off, a musical recording began to play a New Age song I wasn’t familiar with. I didn’t know what the song was about because the lyrics were in another language, but it was beautiful and moving. As I laid there flat on my back, palms turned upward toward the sky, something broke inside of me. Hot tears slipped from the corners of my eyes and slid down my cheeks. My throat tightened and my chin trembled as I tried to hold back the tears. This is the stuff I’m still holding onto. Let it go. I surrendered to my grief and started a flood. Tears streamed down both sides of my cheeks. Some tears pooled in my ear canals and slid down my jaw bone and down my neck. Others rolled off my skin not knowing where they landed. I felt like I would never stop crying.

When the lights came on, I dug in my bag for a tissue and dabbed the tears from my eyes. I was a mess. My cheeks were wet, my neck, my chest. I felt like my whole body was covered in tears. I kneeled on my mat and started to roll it up when I noticed there were tears the size of dimes pooled on it. I had never seen my tears manifested in that way. They looked so big — perhaps the larger the grief, the bigger the tears.

I took a few deep breaths, then collected my things and hurried out the door to my car. I didn’t want anyone to see what a mess I was. When I stepped outside, the gray rain clouds that followed me on my morning drive had dissipated and the sky was now a cloudless blue. I turned my face to the sun and let its rays dry the rest of my tears. And I told myself, “I’m going to be OK.”

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Andrea introduced me to the works of poet Thomas Merton after her Yin Yoga session. “Sit still and rest.” Ah yes. And I love the second poem “At the End …” I think I’m somewhere in the middle.

 

Mountain musings

  
The last morning of vacation always makes me sad. I’m never ready to go home. This is how I feel this morning sitting on the back porch, swaying back in forth in the wooden swing on our deck, spending the morning watching the fog and smokey-grey clouds drift and separate across the Blue Ridge Mountains. I want to wake up every morning like this. 
  
We are tucked away in the woods at an elevation of 4,000 feet. To get here we took a series of paved and gravel roads that seemed like they were leading to nowhere. I’ve never been this remote, so removed from the rest of the world. We’ve immersed ourselves in solitude and quiet, the only sounds being the wind moving the leaves of the trees, and the occasional woodpecker that swoops in and taps on a nearby tree. We turned on the television last night for about an hour and even the sound of it irritated me and disrupted my mountain vacation zen. We turned it off to walk down the gravel road to an open field where we watched the sunset.  

I wonder if I could get used to living somewhere like this with the nearest grocery store 45 minutes away. I guess I’d be trading convenience for peace and a spectacular view. It seems worth it to me. Yesterday I picked wildflowers along the side of our road and baked chocolate chip cookies while listening to a Mozart CD I found in the house. These are not things I normally do in my spare time back home. 
  
I’ve had fantasies here of becoming a novelist and spending my days going for walks in the woods and returning to my cabin to write a few pages. How awesome would that be? 

I feel grounded in the mountains; they’ve always had that effect on me. Maybe it’s because they remind me of home and why when I’m in their presence I feel a sense of longing. For what? Peace? Living somewhere that I truly love? Having that connection to place, nature, the land? Perhaps it’s all of those things.