I realized when I sat down to write about something else, and this came out, that I hadn’t quite finished with the lessons from that day.
“You have 61 days left in the year,” said the email. “What will you keep space for?”
This week, I interviewed someone I’ve often wanted to talk more deeply with. I used an assignment as an excuse to sit down for four hours with a woman I admire, an extremely low-profile, accomplished professional, awesome athlete and genuine mama, to ask her about her life. After a wonderful wide-ranging conversation, during which I became even more convinced she’s someone I’d want on my team, at my back, she said, “I’m still not sure why you’d even want to write about me.”
I nodded, not because I agreed with her, but because the sentiment was so deeply familiar.
Four weeks earlier, I made space in my 61-days-left-and-counting-schedule to attend the Lil’wat Nation Gas Station’s ground-breaking ceremony.
I wrote about it, but after the event, I saw a photo of myself from that day.
I knew I had shyly shrugged off Lois’ invitation to dance; I knew I was trying to be respectfully present; I knew I was a near 6 foot tall white girl in a bright blue jacket so I didn’t much blend in.
But I was shocked to see how much I undermine my own presence with my posture. How my body folds into itself, toes turned in, hands folded across my body, how little space I am trying to occupy, how little permission I give myself to take up space.
(42 years old and still this? Still trying to be as small and innocuous and incongruous as possible? Even as I’m pushing out my words into the world, about embracing graying hair, and humble-bragging on social media, and riding down mountains and climbing back up them, still this?)
Where’s the brown paper bag? I need to catch my breath.
In her book May Cause Love, Kassi Underwood went to see a healer, one of several different healers she saw on a multi year journey to process a pregnancy termination she’d had in University. The healer exhorted her to practice breathing, to really breathe in, and out, to “take up room… take up some f*cking space.”
How do you take up space? Breathe. Suck air. Expand… Space isn’t scarce. Taking up space means knowing the space is mine and being so in touch with the breath that I make room for others to take up space with me.
And there we were at that little round table, two apparently confident and competent mountain women, wondering that same question: how do you take up space?
(How many other tables? How many other women? How many other people?)
At the outset of 2017 I declared that my word for the year would be dauntless.
Dauntless, as in “showing fearlessess and determination.” A dauntless person, Google advised, is “someone who isn’t easily frightened or intimidated. If your dance moves bring to mind a marionette being jerked around by a 5 year old, but you jump on the dance floor anyway, you could be considered dauntless.”
At the time, it was a fun little word game. Scrabble Nerds do New Year’s Resolutions. It wasn’t meant to be quite so prophetic, in the way that someone specifically defined the word by one’s willingness to dance, jerkily, inelegantly, yet publicly and joyfully.
Hello delete button. You’re getting quite the work-out today.
And yet, as I move to Select All – COMMAND X and prepare to undo all this angsty navel-gazing, I think of my friend and subject, asking the same question: “who I am that you’d even want to write about me?”
And I think of Kassi Underwood’s words: when you take up space, it makes room for others to take up space with you. It gives them permission. It expands the potential in all of us.
So I don’t hit delete. I keep breathing. I look at the photo until I can replace my reflexive cringe with a blast of compassion. I prepare to write about this remarkable woman, so that other people, younger people, can see more clearly that there is space in mountain culture, in the lofty realms, for them, too.
I look at the women in the photo who are dancing, leading their community, at the drummers, and see how grounded they are, right down through their feet. I have the smallest inkling of the loads they carry, that should rightfully push them down deep into the ground, collapse them, and yet they stand, they hold fast, they dance.
Suddenly, mountain pose becomes more than the easiest pose we ever get to do at yoga class. It becomes my power pose. It becomes an energy I can call down from the landscape all around me, to help me stand square on my two feet, to occupy my body – this remarkable human form, in which I am gifted this short tenancy.
I would like that ceremony to be the last time I look as if I don’t belong in my own skin when I am somewhere I have chosen to be.
I want to accept the invitation to dance. And hopefully give permission to anyone else who is struggling to see the awesomeness of their own story – to see it, to celebrate it, to share it.
I have just 25 days left, like a reverse advent calendar, to practice this.
It’s still such a great word.
And it’s okay that it’s taken me such a long time to embrace it.
After all, there’s nothing that grows more slowly than a mountain.