It’s true I studied Czech for a year in college. I was twenty, and I learned just enough to stumble around Prague for a week. But BRFWA is not a Czech word, despite all those consonants crammed together, nor is it a visual jumble representing all the different parts of our lives we attempt to hold in some kind of balance, all the junk in that one drawer most everyone has in their kitchen, the one where you put things that don’t belong anywhere else, or maybe just don’t belong at all. Try pronouncing it and you’ll probably laugh out loud.
BRFWA is what I’m taking with me from “Magical Journey,” a memoir by Katrina Kenison. Five letters she learned during a month-long stay at Kripalu: Breathe, Relax, Feel, Watch, Allow.
I spent the day alone. I woke up around 7:30am, puttered around with my first cup of coffee, and finally put on running clothes with June 2 in mind, when I’m registered to run a half-marathon despite the fact that I’m nowhere even near ready. An hour later, I had run a slow-and-steady forty minutes, stretched on my yoga mat, sat for 10 minutes, and ordered new sneakers and a zafu, finally ready to acknowledge that practice requires better shoes and a suitable seat. The rest of the day was spent in silence, resting, literally cleaning out the junk drawer, and quietly finishing Katrina’s book, which I began a few days ago and was more than eager to tuck myself in on the couch to finish, the cats snug on my lap. I did not leave the house again, except to cross the road to my rural mailbox.
Last summer, I was honored by Katrina’s review of “Don’t Miss This” on her blog. She wrote:
This, at a glance, is not the story of my life. And yet, it seemed as if every poem I read revealed to me something that is absolutely the story of my life.
Turns out I had a very similar experience as I read her latest memoir, a beautifully written chronicle about entering her fifties, her two sons away at college and boarding school, losing a dear friend to cancer, facing new territory with her marriage, her home, her work, and her body–relationships by which she defined herself, deeply, lovingly, and with great fulfillment and external purpose and busy-ness for decades. Our paths may be different, but I found myself nodding on nearly every page, at times even pausing to re-read a passage, almost eerily sure I could have written it myself:
My real task is not to try to reinvent myself or to transcend my life after all, but to inhabit it more fully, to appreciate it, and to thoughtfully tend to what’s already here.
. . .
Instead of running away from the past, I want to assimilate and claim it, to gather up all my past selves–dreamy child, restless teenager, impassioned college student, young mother, early-middle-aged woman–and fold them into the person I am at this moment.
The empty spaces to confront ourselves opened in my life and in Katrina’s under very different circumstances, at different ages and for different reasons. But the journey we find ourselves on–that of “inhabiting our lives” more fully, seeking out places of newness (piercing her ears at Claire’s after years of wearing clip-on earrings!), and a deepening comfort with uncertainty, with the darkness and luminosity of being, of experiencing life as it is rather than how we think it should be–this we share.
As I gaze just over the horizon of this year towards forty, wake with sweaty sheets to an empty house every other weekend and two mornings a week, as I navigate the complexities of co-parenting and embark on a second-life love affair that will lead to a new definition of marriage, I may be, as Katrina writes, still in the thick of it, these long, fast years of young children, full-time work, and the ever-elusive question–or maybe myth–of balance. Reading her words, her story of loss and becoming, I found myself touched, not in a Hallmark-y way, but in the way that she writes so eloquently about towards the end of her book as she encounters Reiki and the healing power of simply being present to another’s experience.
Breathe. Relax. Feel. Watch. Allow. Reading Magical Journey reminded me to return to my own, the ground beneath my feet, the cushion beneath my seat, the person right in front of me, the empty space that can sometimes seem daunting and endless, the changing seasons both within us and all around.
When she asked if I’d write something about it here, I agreed without hesitation but have to admit I was a little nervous; the art of reviewing is one I greatly admire and do not feel particularly graceful at. But now, having finished her book, I realize, this is not a review. It is evidence of what happens when we open to our own selves beyond the stories we cling to, beyond the lives we once thought we’d live that shift and change in every moment, sometimes subtly and sometimes dramatically. It’s what happens when we open to each other and allow the unexpected connections to appear. Katrina’s voice is clear as a bell, her powers of observation deeply sensual and honest. Reading her newest book made me breathe, relax, feel, watch, and allow, with space between the words, the letters, the judgments, the leaps and jumps we impose on ourselves when really, so much growth occurs in the dark.
There are so many people I love who I know will love this book. Katrina has generously offered to send a copy to one of my readers. Leave a comment below by January 8–the book’s official publication date–and I will draw a name at random.